ABU DHABI – Santiago Ponzinibbio has been through a lot to get to UFC on ABC 1.

The veteran welterweight returns to the octagon Saturday against Li Jingliang after 26 months of inactivity. A battle with a serious infection that required hospitalization, followed by the pandemic, a broken toe, and COVID-19 kept him from competing in the UFC.

Now healthy and days away from a fight, Ponzinibbio (27-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) feels blessed to have that behind him and be where he’s at today.

“I’m so happy. This is the most happy moment of my life,” Ponzinibbio told reporters Wednesday at UFC on ABC 1 media day. “Brother, in end of 2018, I thought I was going to fight for the belt. I was very close. And in 2019, I was fighting for my life. I almost died.”

Ponzinibbio’s career halted at the best moment of his professional MMA run. Prior to the infection, the Argentine was enjoying a seven-fight winning streak capped off with a knockout of Neil Magny. In that run, Ponzinibbio also headlined two UFC events and had two “Performance of the Night” awards.

The 34-year-old American Top Team product plans to reactivate his big momentum on Saturday night.

“When I beat this guy, I’ll have eight victories in a row, and that’s a good number in the UFC,” Ponzinibbio said. “I fought Neil Magny; he’s a tough guy, and I finished him. Mike Perry, when I fought him he was in his prime and winning. Gunnar Nelson, you know, good names.

“I think I’ve showed my worth, and I know I’ve been off for 26 months, (but) people don’t know but I do know – I know I can finish this guy. I don’t care if I have to do one, two, three fights (to get back to title contention). I’m thankful for the UFC to give me this opportunity. Hopefully I can beat this guy, and they can give me another fight, so I can get a lot of fights in this year. I want to recover the time I’ve lost.”