For the last four years, Luis “Sapo” Santos (64-10-1, 1 NC) has been one of the most eye-catching welterweights in ONE Championship.
Now, the 38-year-old is anxious to resume his climb up the welterweight ranks with the hopes of earning another shot at the ONE Welterweight World Championship.
As Santos prepares for that showdown, get to know the welterweight powerhouse.
Born For Martial Arts
Growing up in Belem, Brazil, Santos was thrust into martial arts thanks to the region’s famous association with judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
After all, a little more than a hundred years ago, it was where Japanese martial artist Mitsuyo Maeda arrived in Brazil, as he traveled around the world teaching and competing in no-holds-barred competitions.
He met a 15-year-old Brazilian named Carlos Gracie, who fell in love with his style of judo and jiu-jitsu. The teenager trained under the legendary martial arts master, and then developed that style of submission grappling into what is known today as Brazilian jiu-jitsu with his younger brother Helio.
Thanks to those martial arts foundations in his hometown, Santos’ father enrolled him in judo classes.
“My dad put me into training. I did not have a lot of options, because I had to obey my dad,” he recalls.
“My dad came to me and said, ‘You have to train.’ He put me in the classes and I had to go. I started doing judo when I was 5 years old, and I trained judo until I was 20.”
The Beginnings Of A Dream
With a foundation in judo, Santos eventually transitioned to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, before discovering his passion for mixed martial arts.
“Sapo” made his official debut in March 2000. He tested himself by entering a one-night tournament down south in Nova Friburgo, Brazil.
It took fewer than 15 minutes for Santos to defeat three opponents – two by knockout and one by rear-naked choke – to win the tournament.
“That is how I found out what I wanted to do in my life,” he says.
“My first fight made me decide what I wanted to do for a living. I fell in love with it right away. That is why I am here today.”
Santos left Belem and moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he began training with some Brazilian icons – Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his twin, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The brothers eventually gave “Sapo” his BJJ black belt.
In 2010, he relocated once more – this time, to the United States – to further his training. He finally brought his skills to ONE in November 2014, and has been in hot pursuit of the ONE Welterweight World Title ever since.
Santos was poised to make a massive jump in his career in mid-2007. He was riding a seven-bout win streak, and was hopeful of finally getting the opportunity to challenge for a belt.
Those hopes were dashed when Santos suffered a broken arm in training.
That injury put him out of action for several months, and made him question his abilities when he recovered.
“The hardest moment in my career was when I broke my arm,” he explains.
“I was training in the gym, and I broke my forearm. It was not even the fracture that made it difficult. It was that I lost a lot of confidence. It took me more than a year to get back physically, and then mentally, to train and fight again.”
Although “Sapo” experienced some hardships in his next few bouts, he turned things around in 2008. He went on an incredible run, going 12-1 in his next 13 contests to put his career back on track.
World Title Aspirations
Santos is ready to make another run at the ONE Welterweight World Championship.
In March, the Brazilian made a statement when he defeated Kiamrian Abbasov at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY in Kuala Lumpur. Although there were questions about his cardio, “Sapo” answered them by routing the Kyrgyz in the three-round affair to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Now, Santos returns to Kuala Lumpur for another tough challenge. He is scheduled to collide with Tyler McGuire at ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER.
McGuire, a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, is a well-rounded athlete who comes to ONE with a perfect 10-0 record, which includes eight first-round finishes.
While Santos respects the American, he believes his rival should prepare for a rude welcome to the organization on 13 July.
“I really do not think too much about if he is undefeated or not. I have always faced amazing, great fighters during my career,” the Brazilian says.
“I do not believe he has ever tested himself against good guys. This is going to be the first test of his career. I am focused, and I am really excited to fight a guy like him.”
“Sapo” hopes a win over McGuire will put him back into title contention. In 76 professional bouts, he has never won a major championship, but a victory over the American will bring him closer to a chance at competing for the ONE Welterweight World Title.
“All athletes want to crown themselves with some good accomplishments,” he says.
“Every event I have fought in before, I have tried to become a champion.
“For ONE, it is not any different. That is why I am working really hard. I know I will crown my career when I get that belt around my waist.”