Richie Santiago Talks UFC Flyweight Division After CES 53 Victory

Richie Santiago returned to his dominant winning ways at CES 53 in first week of November.

CES 53 Post-Fight Interview: Richie Santiago

Santiago broke two on-going streaks when his hand was raised inside of the CES cage. The first was an extended layoff. CES 53 represented the first MMA competition for Santiago since April at CES 49. Coincidently, CES 49 happened to be the first loss on the Milford fighters record. After rattling off six consecutive victories, all by stoppage, Santiago fell to Matt Almy on the main card of the April CES event.

At CES 53, Santiago defeated New England MMA veteran, Billy Giovanella. He did so, yet again, in dominant fashion. Once the bout began, Giovanella spent little time in striking range. In the opening seconds, the experienced Connor’s MMA fighter shot in on a single leg.

Dominant Display

On paper, such a decision does not lead to a desirable outcome when facing an experienced wrestler. As expected, Santiago sprawled out and earned top position. Giovanella drowned in the top pressure of Santiago before giving up his back and tapping to rear-naked choke.

“I didn’t think he was going to shoot right away. That actually took me off guard. I was planning on feeling him out a little bit, and I wanted to strike with him a little bit. See what was going to happen. I thought he was going to try and strike with me, but right away he shot in on a single leg and right away I sprawled it out. It worked out for me, he tried to take me down but that is what happens.”

When it came to the game plan, the early takedown attempt was not expected by Santiago. His expectation and plan were to stay on the feet. Santiago more-so expected to read his opponent, to follow him into whatever domain he wished to enter.

“I wanted to do whatever, just take what he gives me. I felt confident on my feet, I felt like either way I could finish him, on the ground or on the feet. You know I am still looking for that big knockout, I’ve never knocked anybody out so that would have been cool. But, he shot in on me and I was ready for it. Once we went to the ground, that’s so natural to me so I finished it.”

UFC and the Flyweight Division

Although the emotion following the fight, even weeks later was that of elation, news from the UFC altered those feelings slightly. After his victory, news broke that the UFC will dissolve the men’s flyweight division. The news came as a shock to Santiago.

“It sucks, it is awful. There is a lot of guys like me, we are busting our ass out here and we are trying to make it. [With] the UFC cutting the (flyweight) division, that’s the weight class where I had the best chance of making it to the UFC. On top of that, like I said, I had a really tough weight cut this time around. Now that they are cutting the weight class, it’s kind of like, ‘alright, well am I killing myself to make this weight class for no reason? Is there no light at the end of the tunnel?’

It really took me off guard and it kind of heartbreaking because it’s always the weight class I wanted to fight at. Now, they just want to get rid of it so it’s kind of like, ‘what do I do?’ ‘Do I move up now? Do I keep fighting at (flyweight) and try to win the (flyweight) belt?’ I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s still so new, so we will see what happens.”

Flyweight Options

The options for Santiago become slim at 125 lbs. especially in North America. Without a flyweight division in the UFC, work at the higher levels of North American mixed martial arts is scarce. Bellator doesn’t have a flyweight division, nor does PFL. Combates Americas is the largest North American promotion to hold such a division. To continue fighting at 125 lb. limit, Rizin and ONE Championship become the best options.

“Now it could get to the point where that’s my only option. ONE (Championship) is a great promotion, they are out in Asia. [But] do I want to go out and fight in Asia everytime I go out to fight? I don’t know, I hate planes. That’s a 16-hour plane ride to get to Singapore. Do I want to commit to that? I don’t know, yet. I can’t say anything bad about ONE (Championship) they are a great promotion. They are very heavily invested in the small guys, they have the (flyweight) guys, they also have the (strawweight) guys. Who knows, in the future it could be something to look at but right now I am just so blindsided by the UFC cutting (the flyweight division) that it’s like, ‘what do I do?’”

Another option that remains; moving up in weight and becoming a bantamweight. At 5’7, Santiago is a large flyweight. As a bantamweight, he would be in the dead center of average body types and size. Also on his side is age, the 26-year-old is still yet to hit his athletic prime.

Possible Move to Bantamweight

Moving to bantamweight is on the mind of Santiago. After an unsuccessful weight cut ahead of CES 53, one that saw him miss weight by 2 lbs., the thoughts began to creep into his mind.

“Honestly, this past weight cut was tough enough to where I did have the thoughts. But having in the back of head, ‘I win this fight, fight for a title maybe, and then get on the ‘Contender Series’, and then maybe go to the UFC, all at (flyweight). That is my weight class. But at the same time, I cut like 25 lbs. to make (flyweight). It’s a really tough cut, I could move up to (bantamweight). I don’t think I am too small for (bantamweight). It could be something that I entertain in the future, put on some weight, start lifting more. But again like I said, it’s so new right I really don’t know what I am going to do yet. We will see.”

As it stands, the future is unclear. Santiago wishes to return soon but his next move is unknown. The options are seemingly endless for the Milford-born fighter.


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