Santiago Ponzinibbio’s UFC return did not go as planned, but that hasn’t changed his big-picture plans.

The UFC welterweight suffered a first-round knockout to Li Jingliang at UFC on ABC 1 last month, spoiling his highly anticipated comeback.

Ponzinibbio (27-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) had been out since November of 2018. Despite being highly ranked and on a seven-fight winning streak, the Argentine was forced out to the sidelines by a series of unfortunate events.

Ponzinibbio had to battle a life-threatening infection that kept him out of commission for many months. Then the global pandemic hit and that put a halt to UFC operations for some time, delaying his return.

And his run of bad luck didn’t end there, as he suffered a broken toe and then a month-long COVID-19 infection.

Ponzinibbio had a long road full of adversity to get to UFC on ABC 1 to say the least, which makes the result of the fight even harder to process.

“Without a doubt it was the toughest defeat of my career because of the winning streak that I was on, I had a lot on the line, and I had been out for a while,” Ponzinibbio told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “I would’ve been on an eight-fight wining streak and the layoff wouldn’t have mattered as much and I would’ve been back at the top.

“And with this result, things do come to a halt a bit. I’m still not in the rankings, so I do feel like there was a lot on the line. And look, if I was going to lose, at least I would’ve liked to lose after three rounds, giving it my all in the cage because I do feel I’m in the best moment of my career. I was super prepared.

“I had so much to show in that fight and I was just getting started. I was warming up, I was doing everything well, measuring the distance and timing, but taking my time to not rush in there. Maybe it was the inactivity and wanted to ease into the rhythm. But yeah, without a doubt I had a lot on the line and I suffered a tough loss. But that’s how it is. You have to take the positives, which is that I’m healthy and ready to return. Hopefully one day we cross paths and fight again. But I’m just focused on what’s next.”

In addition to result in and of itself, the 34-year-old feels frustrated he wasn’t able to show his full self in his return and prove why in 2018 he was considered a threat to the UFC welterweight title and one of the biggest names at 170 pounds.

“That’s why it hurts so much, I couldn’t demonstrate how good I am,” Ponzinibbio explained. “I was just getting started, just warming up, and it was over. I kept it all in me. If I would fought three rounds and had recovered from that maybe the taste wouldn’t have been so bitter.

“But with the way it went, knowing I had so much to give and wasn’t able to show it, you’re left with frustration. But the truth is that the weight cut was perfect, the training camp went well, I was extremely prepared everywhere. There’s no excuse, I was well prepared.”

It took a little time, but Ponzinibbio has come to terms with the result. It wasn’t what he had pictured, but his desire to be champion and the confidence to get to the top remain the same.

“To be honest with you, I think I can beat anyone in the division,” Ponzinibbio said. “What happened in the fight was a fatality. A hand went through and that’s how this sport is. It’s not like I was dominated and ran over  throughout the course of three rounds and there was a glaring weakness in my game that shows I’m not up to par. No, the truth is that a hand went through, it was bad luc.

“I think my level is among the best of the division and I have everything to become champion. I think if tomorrow I fight (Kamaru) Usman, I have a chance to knock him out, I have a chance to beat him. I know he’s great and everyone in the top 10 is good. I don’t want to disrespect anyone, but I think I can beat them all. I’m very confident in my work. This fight doesn’t change anything for me.”

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