Santiago Ponzinibbio will be returning after over two years out of the octagon, mostly due to a severe illness he suffered in 2019. Li Jingliang fought only once in 2020, losing a unanimous decision to Neil Magny in March.
Ponzinibbio was on fire going into 2019. He has won his last seven bouts, including four knockouts, three of which occurred in the first round. His more impressive wins include first-round knockouts of Andreas Stahl, Court McGee and Gunnar Nelson, decisions over Nordine Taleb and Mike Perry and, most recently, a fourth-round knockout of Neil Magny.
Ponzinibbio is a disciplined and well-rounded mixed martial artist. He has very good technical boxing skills and doesn’t seem to waste a single motion. He has a very clean jab and can do serious damage with it. He tends to keep his striking simple, but extremely effective.
One of Ponzinibbio’s best weapons is his 1-2 combo. Everything he does starts with establishing his jab and, once he finds windows to slip his lead hand in and develop a rhythm, the straight right that follows comes almost unexpectedly and lands with power, on the chin.
The variety in his striking isn’t significant, and it doesn’t have to be. Everything Ponzinibbio does offensively is based on timing and precision. He is a pressure fighter, not by volume, but by position. Ponzinibbio looks to control the center of the octagon and, consequently, the pace of the fight.
He has an excellent understanding of range and manages distance very effectively. He is constantly just a half-step out of range, and opponents don’t dare move forward into his signature jab.
Ponzinibbio isn’t quite what you would call a counter-striker, but he is trying to force his opponents to open themselves up before throwing his attacks. Like I said earlier, finding those openings is all about establishing a rhythm, and then interrupting it abruptly. What makes him so dangerous is that he has legitimate one-shot knockout power.
His distance management contributes to an overall remarkable defensive skillset. Ponzinibbio throws his shots, and immediately moves out of range. He’s not prone to trading shots in the pocket or sticking around to get caught by counters. He holds a high guard, and defends himself when he throws kicks by positioning his hands to throw straights and keep distance. If he throws a right calf kick, his right hand is behind it to extend and keep his head out of his opponents range.
Ponzinibbio’s weaknesses on his feet are few and far between, but he has struggled, at times, against fighters with good head movement. Because his striking is so dependent on his jab, it’s devastating to his gameplan if that jab isn’t getting home. He can have trouble trading shots in the pocket, which is what he’s forced to do if his stick-and-move striking isn’t producing results.
He can, however, dominate fights on the ground. A jiu jitsu black belt with 6 career wins by submission, Ponzinibbio is more than comfortable rolling and has very good top control skills. In a close fight with Mike Perry, Ponzinibbio sealed a unanimous decision victory by getting Perry to the ground, holding him there and landing strikes for most of the third round. If Li Jingliang is getting the better of the striking exchanges, Ponzinibbio could look to get the fight to the canvas.
Li does have good wrestling skills and is very strong for 170. He’s also a black belt in jiu jitsu. He has three wins by submission, but he thrives as a kickboxer. He’s a forward-moving fighter looking to land big shots and trade in the pocket. He doesn’t mind eating shots to work inside and holds a low guard, which is extremely concerning in this fight.
Jingliang has a great chin, and unfortunately he’s going to need it in this matchup. He has allowed fighters with slower and less-disciplined striking to land jabs and combinations consistently. If he allows Ponzinibbio to do that, he’s going to absorb a lot of damage.
There isn’t very much to analyze here, this is a clear mismatch. Ponzinibbio is levels beyond Jingliang in terms of skill level and experience. His jab will get through with ease, and he’ll dismantle his counterpart from there. Jingliang has never been knocked out, but that could very easily change this Saturday.
Ponzinibbio Moneyline at -280 is a safe play, even at the steep price. We’ll also be plugging it into at least one parlay. Ponzinibbio by KO/TKO at +150 is a solid low-risk value play, keeping in mind that Jingliang can absorb a lot of damage and stay on his feet, even against fighters with Ponzinibbio’s level of power. The other concern about the knockout bet is Ponzinibbio possibly implementing a slower-paced gameplan in order to ease himself back into competition after all the time off.