Thiago Santos (aka “Marreta” which translates to “Sledgehammer”, matching his brutal kickboxing style perfectly) was born January 7th, 1984 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The now 34 year-old is the current no.5-ranked light heavyweight in the UFC and the former light heavyweight title challenger.
Ahead of his main event slot against Magomed Ankalaev tomorrow, March 12th, let’s take a look back at the 22-9 combat beast’s journey into martial arts and his impressive career thus far.
His first fight began at birth owing to two cysts in his stomach that threatened his life. However, doctors were able to operate and save him.
At 8 years-old, Santos began training in Capoeira and achieved the green rope – the equivalent of a black belt in BJJ.
When he was 11 years-old, his family’s home was destroyed by a flood, forcing them to relocate to Cidade de Deus (City of God) – a notorious favela in Rio de Janeiro.
Santos continued training though, adding black belts in Muay Thai and BJJ to his skillset. Alongside his martial arts training, he served as a paratrooper for 7 years in Brazil and fulfilled a lifelong dream of skydiving.
In the early 2000s, he discovered Pride and fell in love with the head kicks demonstrated, sparking his early beginnings in MMA.
His professional debut came in 2010 not long after his father had suffered life-threatening injuries in a motorcycle accident. His father would see Santos’ debut victory but he sadly passed away 15 days later.
At 8-1, Santos competed on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil Season 2 and, despite losing to the eventual winner, Leonardo Santos in the quarter finals, was offered a contract with the UFC.
At middleweight, Thiago racked up notable victories over Anthony Smith, Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson before stepping up to light heavyweight.
Wins over Eryk Anders and Jan Blachowicz lined Santos up for a title shot against Jon “Bones” Jones at UFC 239 (July 6th, 2019). He remains the only fighter to ever win on a judge’s scorecard against Jones, but he narrowly lost the split decision.
After recovering from a 3-fight skid, a unanimous decision win against Johnny Walker had Santos back in the spotlight against the no.6-ranked Magomed Ankalaev. With the two so close in the rankings, this could have real implications for the next light heavyweight title challenger…
Now that you’ve got some of “Maretta” / ”The Sledgehammer’s” backstory, let’s crack open Thiago Santos’ Top 5 MMA Finishes! (in descending order)
5. Vs. Ronny Markes – UFC FN 38 (Mar. 23, 2014)
Coming off a loss in his UFC debut, Santos arrived with a record of 8-2 in contrast to Markes’ at 14-2.
Santos was a massive underdog at +600 on the betting lines but had crossed over to American Top Team to train up his wrestling during his fight camp.
Round 1 started with Santos switching through orthodox and southpaw with Markes dominating the center of the cage.
Both fighters opted for leg kicks at the start but neither landed.
Then, just seconds into the fight, Santos landed a thunderous body kick that caught Markes on his liver, crumpling him to the ground.
Santos followed his opponent down to the canvas, delivering hammer fists before the referee stepped in to call the TKO at a neat 53 seconds into round 1.
Santos had dispatched his opponent without absorbing a single significant strike and rose to 9-2.
4. Vs. Steve Bossé – UFC FN 70 (June 27, 2015)
Santos came into this middleweight bout on the main card at 10-3, whilst Bosse held a similar record of 10-1.
Round 1 began with Santos switching stances again. From southpaw, he landed a left straight flush.
Thiago then attacked the legs with an inside low kick followed by his rising signature move – the body kick.
Bosse lowered his guard to block the body kick though, which set up Santos’ next attack…
Santos launched a lightning-fast head kick, connecting his shin with the side of his opponent’s head and rendering Bosse unconscious. (Sound on for this one!)
This made it a KO victory for Santos at just 29 seconds of round 1.
With his opponent not landing a single strike again, Thiago earned a $50K Performance of the Night bonus with this knockout being ranked the 8th Best MMA Knockout of the Year for 2015 on Tapology.
3. Vs. Jan Błachowicz – UFC FN 145 (Feb. 23, 2019)
After his move up to light heavyweight, Santos arrived with a 20-6 record to rival Blachowicz’s 23-7.
The odds were almost even on this main event fight despite Blachowicz’s 4-fight winning streak.
Round 1 saw a kickboxing-heavy approach from both fighters. Both found success with leg kicks as Santos teased his flashy Capoeira kicks.
Towards the end of the round, Santos landed his signature body kick but Blachowicz caught it and tried to counter with a takedown. Santos did a solid job of getting to the cage, digging in underhooks and landing a big right hook on the way out.
In round 2, both fighters put more emphasis on forward pressure starting with Santos who rushed in with overhands. Blachowicz backed out of range quickly though and returned with his own leg kick and a left straight.
Next, it was Jan’s turn to rush in, feinting a straight and just missing with a lead uppercut. Santos clubbed him with a left hook for his troubles – a sequence that would repeat itself in round 3…
At the start of the third round, Jan waded in again, this time with a jab feint and a rear uppercut. However, Santos landed a short right hook as he backed up, followed by a massive left hook that dropped Blachowicz.
Santos swarmed his opponent with ground and pound until the referee stepped in, making it a TKO victory for Santos at 39 seconds of round 3.
Santos won the $50K Performance of the Night bonus and would go on to challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title.
2. Vs. Eryk Anders – UFC FN 137 (Sept. 22, 2018)
Going back to Santos at 18-6, he took on Eryk Anders at 11-1 for the main event in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Round 1 saw Anders take a wrestling-heavy approach, however Santos was able to defend several takedowns and use his defensive wrestling to keep the fight on the feet.
Santos started to test his range with body and head kicks towards the end of the round but couldn’t quite land yet…
In round 2, after a frantic exchange of punches, Anders attempted a takedown but found himself on the bottom of full guard receiving ground and pound from Santos.
As they scrambled back to their feet, Santos found a home for a big knee to the head and sent Anders on the retreat. With a barrage of elbows, body kicks and straight punches, Anders fell to the floor but just about grabbed an underhook and saw out the round.
In round 3, Anders finally found success with his wrestling – he landed a takedown and took the back from ¾ mount. Santos tucked his chin to defend the incoming rear naked choke, got his shoulders to the mat, and scrambled back to his feet.
After landing a big left straight and a spinning back elbow, Santos found himself on the ground once again with Anders holding position in top half guard. When he finally attempted a knee cut pass, Santos used the opening to create space and return to the feet once again.
With Anders returning to a single leg takedown attempt, Santos took the opportunity to land short elbows and strikes as his opponent failed to get the takedown.
As the bell rang for the end of the round, Anders fell to his back in exhaustion. Despite his cornermen trying to drag him back to the stool, he collapsed twice and the referee decided to call the fight off.
Despite the unusual circumstances of the victory, Santos won by TKO at 5 minutes of round 3, earning a $50K Fight of the Night bonus. The bout was also ranked the 33rd Best MMA Fight of the Year, on Tapology.
1. Vs. Jimi Manuwa – UFC 231 (Dec. 8, 2018)
For our top pick, we return to Santos at 19-6 against Jimi Manuwa at 17-4 for one of the most insane MMA fights of all time!
Round 1 began with a right jab to the jaw and a left hand for Santos that clipped the top of Manuwa’s head, sending him to the canvas immediately. They clinched against the cage where Santos landed a left hook that dropped his opponent again.
Back up against the cage, Manuwa landed a right elbow and an overhand of his own.
Santos would then dig in an underhook and drag his opponent to the floor, landing in top half guard. Manuwa quickly found an underhook of his own and used it to scramble back to his feet.
In a mad exchange, Manuwa landed an uppercut from the clinch, to which Santos replied with a knee to the head and a left hook. They then exchanged body kicks before clinching again.
Santos restarted with a left jab and poured on the pressure with a flurry of strikes.
Towards the end of the round, Santos then launched a jumping, spinning back kick followed by an even more audacious airborne spinning kick, landing him on the ground. Manuwa struggled to attack the now resolutely turtled Santos with a couple of big left fists as the round ended.
Round 2 followed the same spirit with Manuwa looking for a takedown against the cage. Santos found some space and landed a short left hook. He then dug in an underhook and reversed the position against the fence.
After a hard left uppercut and hook from Santos, they both swung wildly as Santos landed another left uppercut, missed with his right, but found the final blow in a left hook.
Manuwa crumpled to the ground with no follow-up shots needed, making it a KO victory at 41 seconds of round 2.
Santos earned the $50K Performance of the Night bonus and this unbelievable battle also became ranked the 13th Best MMA Fight of the Year for 2018, on Tapology.