Do the career arithmetic on Gleristone Santos, and things get a little fuzzy. He’s only 27 years old, but has somehow racked up a professional record of 27-4. He began in 2005, which means he was 17 when he began fighting in his native Brazil.
In other words, it’s been a long run already. But after years of toiling—and winning—in Brazil and beyond, Santos has finally broken into big league MMA.
Gleristone "Toninho Furia" Santos is a great signing by Bellator. #MMA— Steve W (@GhostSearch) April 14, 2015
He makes his debut for Bellator Friday when he faces John Teixeira da Conceicao at Bellator 143. And you know who's pumped about that? Gleristone Santos. But you should be, too.
“The word to describe my emotion is pure excitement,” Santos said through a translator in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report. “I have worked hard since I was a teenager to enter the big show, and now the time has arrived. I believe Bellator has some of the best fighters in their roster, and I am ready to make an impact and contribution to the organization.”
Santos is known for a well-rounded skill set. He’s also known for his size; he began his career as a lightweight, but a loss to UFC veteran Carlo Prater spurred a divisional drop. He is big for a featherweight at 5’9” (by comparison, lineal champ Jose Aldo is 5'7", and challenger Chad Mendes is 5'6").
He’s extremely dangerous in the stand-up phase, where he marks up (and knocks out) opponents with crisp and heavy combinations. He has a potent mixture of power and creativity that is tough for just about anyone to match, and that goes for the ground phase too. Though not his wheelhouse, he knows how to land a takedown and how to control and punish people from the top.
All of this adds up to another word: Action. Santos is a classic don't-blink kind of competitor.
“One of my favorite weapons to use are my flying knees, and I always try to capitalize on my speed,” Santos said. “I don’t like to follow the rules and box myself in a corner with my fighting style. So I always make a point of being creative with all of my techniques and sequences so that I am never predictable.”
Growing up poor in Campina Grande, Brazil, Santos used to sleep on floors to save money. Things were a little different for Santos when he finally broke into the United States MMA scene, debuting for Titan FC in spring 2014.
“My life has changed completely since the first years of my career,” Santos said. “I am now both a husband and a father. I have responsibilities now that I never had as a teenager.”
Those teenage years, of course, are when Santos began his fighting career. Realizing at 16 that he wanted to pursue fighting, he still tried to wrap other jobs around his training time. But for Santos—who said he could see himself as a soccer player or police officer if not a fighter—nothing worked out except MMA.
“When I was 17 years old I took a break from fighting to try working a regular job,” Santos said. “It did not, however, make me happy. And I also knew in the long run it would not create the right type of opportunities for me in my life. ...Watching MMA evolve commercially while I was also evolving as a fighter gave me great motivation.”
Friday, one of the best prospects in the MMA world will cease being a prospect. Though "excitement" is the first word that comes to mind for Santos, another one might be just as apt: Finally.
“I always do my best to make my fights entertaining because I am a creative and explosive fighter,” Santos said. “I have a strong vision that I will be Bellator champion. I plan to make that vision a reality. The fans should tune into Bellator 143 to see how the story begins.”
The Beaten Path is Bleacher Report's series on top MMA prospects. For the previous interview in the series, click here. Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand.