Eliseu Zaleksi dos Santos & The Unforeseeable Welterweight Path
By James Lee
As arguably the most satisfying fight card of the year will embark on Yas Island this Saturday, a welterweight fighter on the preliminary card will yet again go under the radar and receive very limited credit, despite sharing the same level of skill and excitement as those on the main card.
Crucially, and as headliner Kamaru Usman adequately exemplified, the welterweight division requires an almost unforeseeable path to the top. When an opportunity may come and to who is very difficult to foreshadow, sadly for Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos.
The amount of talent unranked makes for a shark tank of a division, where losses are instrumental in the trajectory of championship aspirations. The sheer amount of fighters vying for their chance at gold manifests a situation where current champion Kamaru Usman had to win nine consecutive times before finally earning his shot at then-champion Tyron Woodley.
In dos Santos’ case, he was very recently on a seven-fight win streak, with notable victories over Curtis Millender and Max Griffin amongst those. Oddly, a lot of those involved dramatic finishes as well, which usually attracts attention, but the current state of affairs means more is needed than just that.
A loss to Li Jingliang last August has significantly halted his progression and ensured his need to restart a path to gold. With a sport as inconsistent as mixed martial arts, keeping a long consecutive streak without a blip is almost unimaginable. Especially at welterweight, it is widely acknowledged that the path to welterweight triumph is painfully long-drawn and political.
The Brazilian did return back to winning ways in March with a win over the highly-touted Alexey Kunchenko, but his opponent on the weekend again represents a significant challenge, but one that is again unlikely to attract awareness. There is little doubt about Muslim Salikhov’s talent, but a win for dos Santos is bound to do very little for him considering the lack of exposure for his counterpart.
Then again, and as welterweight number one contender Gilbert Burns has recently shown, fortunes and perception can quickly change once momentum is formulated. Burns was never a fighter that attracted recognition, but a willingness to fight without preparation has meant he will likely get his opportunity to prove he is the division’s best very soon and that same fortune could be afforded to dos Santos.
Nevertheless, if championship ambitions in the near future are not realistic, a chance to cement himself amongst a welterweight pact that is widely appreciated could be achieved. Those unranked make welterweight the most exciting division in the sport, and dos Santos should be noted amongst the likes of Mike Perry, Niko Price, Gunnar Nelson, Alex Oliveira and more that always acquire fan care because they guarantee an excitement most cannot match.
Truly, dos Santos deserves a fight that could create a championship chance. Success in Abu Dhabi could be another step towards that inevitable opportunity, but he should not hold his breath. However, if Saturday can match his usual level of performance, recognition amongst the recognisable welterweight elite should be a certainty.