Daron Cruickshank finished Koshi Matsumoto in impressive fashion in his last bout inside the Rizin ring in May, and returns to action Sunday against a relatively unknown — but dangerous — Brazilian striker.
Tom Santos, who holds a 9-5 MMA record and 15-3 record in kickboxing with 17 knockouts combined in both sports, is entering the Rizin ring for the first time after scoring wins in Japanese promotions Pancrase, Road FC and Heat.
Training at Brazilian Thai and at Lucas Martins’ Capital da Luta in Aracatuba, Brazil, Santos had a 4-4 MMA record in the regional scene back in 2015 when he entered a one-night kickboxing 155-pound tournament in Brazil that changed his life. The winner of the tournament would be given a chance to compete in a kickboxing promotion in Japan, and Santos beat up two opponents to earn that opportunity.
After focusing on his kickboxing career for more than a year, Santos returned to mixed martial arts in 2017 at Heat 39, moving on to Road FC shortly after. With a 5-1 record in Japan in less than two years, including a seven-second knockout victory, Santos celebrates a chance to fight a popular name like Cruickshank.
”He’s one of the top guys in Rizin, he’s on a roll, and they gave me this tough match-up right from the start to see how I’ll do,” Santos told MMA Fighting. “That’s the type of fight I expected. I’ve been asking for a big fight like this for a while. I’m 100 percent ready to fight. If he accepts to stand and trade with me, it’s going to be a good fight.”
With his last four MMA wins coming by way of knockout, the Brazilian lightweight doesn’t expect Cruickshank to try to test his striking skills despite his opponent’s success on the feet.
”I like to stand and bang,” Santos said. “Even though I’m prepared to go to the ground, I like to trade punches and kicks even if my opponent is tough on the feet. If he stands with me, it will be the best fight of the night, but I think he’ll try to go to the ground.”
Currently living in Brazil, but spending some time in Japan for his fights and training, Santos hopes to move full-time to Japan as soon as his wife receives a Japanese visa. Leaving his home country can be tough for some, but the 33-year-old lightweight sees no downsides.
”Moving to Japan will completely change my life because people here work hard, but they know they will have enough money to buy a house, a car,” Santos said. “You can make plans with your salary here, and that’s not how things work in Brazil. It’s a whole other world here. I’ll have the support I need, I can get more sponsors, and will be able to provide a better life for my family.”
Fighting for important Japanese promotions was not enough to convince many Brazilian companies to sponsor him, Santos said, because most of them only care about UFC fighters.
”They want to know what do you represent, not what you have accomplished,” Santos said. “That devalues the sport. But I’m showing the world what I’m capable of through my hard work and I’m getting where I wanted to be.
”I want to be a star in Japan and be among the best here to represent my country the best way possible.”
Rizin 11 takes place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, and airs live on pay-per-view on Fite.tv.