Gillian Robertson and Taila Santos were always slated to compete this month, but not always against one another.
Robertson, 25, was originally slated to face Andrea Lee last weekend at UFC 256 before Lee was forced out of the bout due to injury.
Although Robertson now goes from taking on a ranked opponent to a relative newcomer to the UFC, she said there was never an instance where she considered waiting for a bigger opportunity.
“I was ready to fight, and I put too much into this camp to let it all go to waste,” said Robertson in an interview with MMA Empire.
“If I want to be the champ one day, I have to be able to beat every girl in the division, so whoever they put in front of me, I’m going to take that fight.”
Santos, 27, was initially scheduled to take on Montana De La Rosa on Dec. 5 at UFC on ESPN 19, but De La Rosa was forced out of the bout when one of her cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
Santos said she’s happy to still have the opportunity to compete after what was a lengthy and tough training camp.
“I was very disappointed about the fight with De La Rosa because I did three months of training for this fight,” said Santos in an interview with MMA Empire via translator.
“If they didn’t replace the fight, it would’ve been very bad for me.”
Robertson views Santos as better matchup
With Robertson currently sitting at No. 13 in the women’s flyweight rankings, the matchup with the No. 11-ranked Lee was an opportunity to climb higher up the rankings and further establish herself in the division.
Robertson said although a win over Santos may not hold as much shine as a victory over Lee, she feels the matchup is more favourable for her in the end.
“I feel like Andrea was a tougher matchup. She’s just faced tougher opponents, she’s a vet in the game, and she’s been around for awhile,” said Robertson.
“It works out a little better for me that I have somebody who’s not as skilled on the ground, and is a little more willing to stay on her back it seems like from her fights.”
Although she wasn’t able to keep her finish train rolling in her last bout against Poliana Botelho, a unanimous decision win, in October, Robertson succeeded in setting the new record for most submission wins in women’s UFC history with her rear-naked choke stoppage of Cortney Casey in July. The record-setting submission was Robertson’s fourth in the UFC.
Robertson said she’s not finished yet, however, as she also has her sights set on breaking the overall UFC submissions record, currently held by Charles Oliveira with 14.
“I’m trying to set a legacy for myself,” said Robertson.
“Obviously, the belt is the goal, but I don’t want to just be remembered as a dominant champion. I want to be remembered as someone who has all these records, and has set them so far that no one can catch up. Right now, these other girls are too close.”
Robertson’s last bout with Botelho was her first fight to go to a decision in her entire UFC career.
She said she plans on hopping right back on the submission train Saturday night with her go-to submission.
“I think everyone knows with me I’m trying finish the fight, I’m trying to attack the neck, and the rear-naked choke is my favourite,” said Robertson.
“That’s what we’re going for, and hopefully I can put her out before the 15-minute bell rings.”
Santos has gained confidence back
After dropping her UFC debut via split decision to Mara Romero Borella in Feb. 2019, Santos was successful in earning her first UFC win in July of this year, taking a unanimous decision over Molly McCann.
Coming into this fight, Santos said she’s more confident this time around in comparison to the lead-up to the McCann fight.
“I’m very confident and comfortable for this fight. My last fight, I was not comfortable because I was afraid to lose again,” said Santos.
“But now I don’t have this problem. I’m very comfortable for this fight, ready to show everything I have, and confident about the victory.”
Santos will go from facing No. 15-ranked De La Rosa to No. 13 Robertson, making the significance of a win even more impactful.
She said she’s excited for the prominent opportunity, but isn’t looking to rush her way to the top of the division.
“It’s a very good opportunity to show all my potential, but I’m not thinking about the ranking,” said Santos.
“I know I will arrive. It could be now, or could be in one year, but I will be in the title shot. I want to get experience in the UFC and stay patient.”
Coming into this bout, Santos has displayed a dangerous striking acumen throughout her career, finishing 10 of her 16 wins via knockout or TKO.
Santos said she knows she’s going to have a big advantage over Robertson in the striking department, but is also confident in her abilities to control the fight on the ground.
“I think Robertson will try to put me down because her striking skills are not too good. She has good wrestling and good ground game, but she is not a good striker,” said Santos.
“My biggest advantage is the stand-up, but I’m very confident on the ground too. I’m confident I can submit her too.”
“I always need to thank Din Thomas and Jose ‘Shorty’ Torres, my head coach and main training partner. They’re there for me through everything and they’re the reason I’m at this point.” Follow Robertson on social media: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM