With “Fight of the Night” performances in three of his past four wins, one might think Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was a name on the tip of plenty of tongues in the welterweight division.
But dos Santos (18-5 MMA, 4-1 UFC), ahead of a key 170-pound fight against Sean Strickland (19-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) on Saturday at UFC 224, isn’t yet happy with where he’s at.
“My goal is to get as close as I can to the top 10,” dos Santos recently told MMAjunkie. “I want to be among the best, among the best ranked in the UFC. I’ve had a good career. In the world rankings, I think I’m number 41 or 42. It’s not a bad world ranking, but in the UFC I haven’t yet reached the top 15. My goal is to keep battling so I take another step up the ladder.”
UFC 224 takes place Saturday at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, and the main card airs on pay-per-view following preliminary-card bouts on FX and UFC Fight Pass. Dos Santos vs. Strickland is part of the FS1 prelims.
Dos Santos was supposed to fight in February at UFC Fight Night 127 in London, but an injury knocked him out of a fight with Jack Marshman. It slowed his momentum after a major-league rebound from a loss in his promotional debut.
Since a split-call setback to Nicolas Dalby nearly three years ago, he has wins over Omari Akhmedov, Keita Nakamura, Lyman Good and Max Griffin and three “Fight of the Night” $50,000 bonuses.
It seems like a fight with Strickland could have the potential for yet another one.
“He’s a very strong opponent,” dos Santos said. “We’ve followed his career. He’s a complete fighter who knows how to use distance. He also has a good ground game, and good takedown defense. His only two losses were to very strong opponents (Kamaru Usman and Santiago Ponzinibbio). But I think there’s a lot I can explore. There are a lot of small holes in his game. I’ll look to impose my rhythm and use my experience.
“It will be a great fight. I’m very well prepared. And fighting in Brazil is always a positive thing, especially for us who come from here. Fighting in Rio de Janeiro was one of my objectives, especially in the UFC. I’m putting in the work, so it will be an awesome fight, no doubt.”
And while Strickland is solid with wins in four of his past fight fights, dos Santos believes an even bigger name on the horizon is what he needs after Saturday.
“I believe that after this fight, I should get someone who is higher in the rankings so I can make it to the top,” he said. “My goal is to fight three times within a year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fight in London. Hopefully, after fighting in Rio, I can have another two fights back to back. Anything can happen. I don’t have any specific opponents in mind. But I know I can have a great performance against anyone the UFC puts in front of me.”