Thiago Santos explains move to PFL, says $1 million prize is ‘more than I made all these years in the UFC’


Thiago Santos still had one fight left on his UFC deal when he negotiated his release from the company. Now he has bold plans for the next few years of his career in the PFL.

Speaking on the latest episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca, “Marreta” called his decision to leave the UFC a “combination of many factors,” which including better pay and to a chance to “breathe new air.”

“It was also the right moment, at this stage of my career, to try something different,” Santos said. “I won’t be a hypocrite, of course that I want the $1 million [prize]. Of course I want money to make my nest egg. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late [in my career], like almost retiring, to fight one last fight and try a lot of money. No, I really want to fight. I know I still can do great things in MMA, I still have a few more years of fighting. The moment had to be now. New opportunities, better purse. Everything made me opt for the change.”

Santos declined to disclose how much he’s set to make in the PFL, but said “the purse is financially better for me than [what I had in the] UFC.”

The American Top Team light heavyweight could pocket an extra $1 million as well if he wins the 2023 playoffs, and said “I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure that would be more than I made all these years in the UFC.” Santos, who once challenged Jon Jones for the UFC title, fought 24 times inside the octagon between 2013 and 2022.

But Santos also said he has “nothing to complain” about regarding his nine-year journey as a UFC fighter and feels “grateful” for every opportunity he had in the company. Santos left the promotion with a record of 14-10 record that included wins over Jan Blachowicz, Johnny Walker, Jimi Manuwa, Kevin Holland, Anthony Smith, and Jack Hermansson.

“I still had one more fight [in my contract] but my manager Alex [Davis] was already in conversations with the PFL for a while,” said the Brazilian, who lost to Magomed Ankalaev and Jamahal Hill in his final octagon appearances in 2022. “They had reached out asking how many fights I had left and when my contract would end, and they came with an offer. My manager asked me if he could advance the talks, I talked to my wife and we decided to continue [the discussion with PFL]. He spoke with the UFC and the UFC was very kind and correct with us, we dealt everything in a friendly manner and got the release.”

Santos envisions himself competing professionally for “no more” than three more years and expects to make his PFL debut in 2023. He said he was offered a spot in the final PFL card of the year on Nov. 25, but had to turn it down after undergoing injury to fix a broken left hand.

The Brazilian joins three other American Top Team light heavyweights in the 2023 season — Omari Akhmedov, Antonio Carlos Junior, and Josh Silveira — and doesn’t mind facing them in the cage. The door is also open for a future move to heavyweight, he said.

“We’re all very mature, we’re friends and train together for a long time,” said Santos, who picks Akhmedov to beat Rob Wilkinson to win the 2022 PFL season. “Josh just fought Omari, so, if it has to happen, it will. We’ll fight and friendship will continue the same.”