Jimi Manuwa focused on getting back on track after losses, injury

Jimi Manuwa returns to the Octagon on Saturday looking for his first victory since March 2017. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jimi Manuwa is hoping to make the third time the charm.

After a last-minute opponent change and an injury forcing him to withdraw from the original date, the British light heavyweight is raring to go as he faces Thiago Santos on Saturday night at UFC 231 in Toronto.

Following back-to-back losses, Manuwa (17-4) was scheduled to fight Glover Teixeira in the main event of a UFC Fight Night in Sao Paulo in September. When Teixeira dropped out due to injury, he was replaced by career middleweight Santos (19-6), who would be stepping up to 205 pounds for the first time. However, a hamstring injury suffered during the week of the fight forced "Poster Boy" to pull out. The fight eventually was rebooked for this weekend at Scotiabank Arena.

"I just can't wait to get in there," Manuwa told reporters this week. "I know my skills. Once you get in there, it's a different story. It's more about concentration. It's all about staying focused and getting the job done."

Manuwa's two recent losses came at the hands of Volkan Oezdemir and Jan Blachowicz, and lessons have been learned. "The last one, with Blachowicz, when I watch it back, I was going for the knockout too much, too focused on the knockout and getting hit with jabs," Manuwa explained. "I was like, 'F--- your jabs, f--- jabs, I just want to land the big one.' Looking back at it, that kind of cost me the fight.

"It's all about experiences and taking positives from each fight, even if it was a loss. So that's what I've done."

Although Manuwa couldn't fight in Sao Paulo, Santos' light heavyweight debut proceeded as scheduled, resulting in a third-round TKO win over replacement Eryk Anders. Because Anders was also fighting at 205 pounds for the first time, however, Manuwa believes Santos hasn't truly experienced what it's like to compete in this division.

"We'll see," Manuwa said. "Last time he came up to light heavyweight, he fought Eryk Anders, who was coming up [in weight], as well. We'll see how he does against a natural light heavyweight this time. It's not always about the bigger man -- maybe when it comes to wrestling and stuff like that, but we ain't going to be wrestling in there. We're going to be banging it out."

The Londoner doesn't need reminding of how important this fight is as he attempts to snap his skid. "Every fight is a must-win for me," Manuwa said. "I'm not dwelling on the past, whether it's one loss or two losses. I'm not dwelling on it, I'm not living in the past. I must win this fight, though."

While the hamstring injury was feared to be something that could put him on the shelf for an extended period, Manuwa was back in the gym in no time. "Thankfully, hamstring injuries don't take that long to heal," he explained. "I was surprised, myself, because when they showed me the scan of how big the tear was, I thought, 'F---, I'm going to be out for months.' But a couple of weeks, two or three weeks after, I couldn't really feel, but I was taking it easy. So we started training, and I accepted the fight. It's not even been on my mind in sparring. I've been hitting pads and kicking."

In addition to preparing for his own bout, Manuwa has also been helping his training partner Alexander Gustafsson prepare for his Dec. 29 fight with Jon Jones. "He's looking phenomenal," Manuwa said of the Swede. "I think technically he's the best in the world everywhere. His cardio is through the roof. I'm looking forward to the fight. I'm going to do this fight and then go back into camp with him and finish off there. He's always focused, but this time, this is the fight he's been waiting for, so he's training like crazy."

If all goes well for Manuwa on Saturday night, then all roads will lead back to London come next spring, as the UFC recently announced a return to the O2 arena on March 16. "One hundred, it's not a UFC London event without me on the card," he said. "But I'm not going to think about that right now. I'm focused on fighting on Saturday."