by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com, photo by Taro Irei
American Top Team fighter Jorge Santiago knew heading into Sunday’s rematch with Mamed Khalidov that it would not be an easy fight. The two last met in November of last year at Sengoku Eleventh Battle, where Khalidov stopped the Sengoku middleweight champion via TKO in the opening round of their non-title affair.

Sunday’s battle for the belt wasn’t easy, but Santiago answered the challenge, avenging the loss with a five-round unanimous decision to retain his belt.

“I expected this fight to be a very tough fight, but I know that I trained very hard with my coach to go all the way. It’s all about heart, you know,” said Santiago after the fight. “I am very happy cause I know I had this mind and I was going to fight with all my heart to save the championship.”

Most agreed that it was a close fight with both athletes having their moments to shine, but Khalidov did not take away from Santiago’s victory, nor his own.

“I lost and that was the judges’ decision and I really fought on the highest level in this moment. Sengoku champion, from the beginning, he was aware and it was very tough fight. I don’t want to complain,” said Khalidov, believing the decision didn’t take away from another strong performance against the champion.

Santiago said that he expected Khalidov to be strong in the early rounds, but knew that if he was unable to finish the Polish fighter early, he could push him in the deep waters of the fourth and fifth rounds. Khalidov had never fought a five-round bout before.

“If we have the opportunity to finish, finish. If we don’t, get to the ground game and get him tired… So it was a part of my plan (to wear him down),” said the Brazilian.

With the win last November and maybe more so going five full rounds on Sunday, Khalidov earned a lot of respect from the champion, but in the end, Santiago walked away proud to have defended his belt.

“He proved that he can go far, but today, I proved that I’m still the champion. I know what takes to be a champion. And I worked very hard to stay the middleweight champion of Sengoku.”

-Jorge Santiago def. Mamed Khalidov by Unanimous Decision, R5
-Akihiro Gono def. Diego Gonzalez by Unanimous Decision, R3
-Maximo Blanco def. Chang Hyun Kim by KO at 1:10, R1
-Marlon Sandro def. Tomonari Kanomata by KO at 0:09, R1
-Yoshihiro Nakao def. Henry Miller by TKO (Strikes) at 3:27, R2
-Yuji Hoshino def. Nick Denis by Submission (Guillotine Choke) at 0:47, R2
-Leonardo Santos def. Kiuma Kunioku by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:06, R1
-Shigeki Osawa def. Kyung Ho Kang by Unanimous Decision, R3

(Results courtesy of Sherdog.com)