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Santos wasn't going to stop against Jones, 'even on one leg'

Thiago Santos pushed Jon Jones to the limit at UFC 239 despite a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left knee. He ultimately lost the fight via split decision. Joe Amon for ESPN

Thiago Santos became the first fighter in UFC history to best Jon Jones on an official scorecard when he did so in their five-round, light heavyweight title fight at UFC 239 in Las Vegas on July 6.

Unfortunately for Santos (21-7), he beat Jones on only one official card. The other two judges scoring the bout had it 48-47 for Jones (25-1).

It was, nevertheless, a historic feat for Santos, made all the more impressive by the fact he injured his knee in the opening round. Santos' left knee was visibly unstable throughout the fight. He was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL, PCL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee, as well as a partial ligament tear in his right knee.

The 35-year-old Brazilian underwent surgery shortly after the fight in early July and is currently recovering in Las Vegas. ESPN caught up with Santos -- who spoke in Portuguese through his manager Alex Davis -- to look back on the fight and discuss what's next.

ESPN: Late last month, you wrote on Twitter your leg was in so much pain you feared walking to the bathroom. How are you feeling now?

Santos: I am feeling a little better. The first weeks were very painful and very tough, but the surgery was a success, and I'm recovering very well. I will be in Las Vegas for two months recovering. Average recovery time is six to eight months. Every person is different, but I am doing everything possible to get back as soon as possible.

ESPN: What was the pain like in the fight, and how difficult has it been coping with a championship defeat, in addition to the injury?

Santos: The pain was pretty intense during the fight. On a scale of one to 10, it was an eight -- but the real problem was that I didn't have any stability in my left knee. If I'd had stability, I would have been able to continue fighting like I intended to. I'm very competitive, and the defeat has been tough, but at the same time, I surpassed the difficult situation and managed to keep fighting. A lot of people have told me they thought I won the fight, so that's helped. But a defeat is always hard.

ESPN: You've said you suffered the injury in the very first round. How much additional damage do you think you did to your knee by staying in the fight?

Santos: Certainly the more I kept trying, the worse it made things. The damage I did was worse. I had to keep changing sides and putting more weight on the other knee, which is how I hurt the other knee. The decision to keep fighting caused a lot more damage, no question.

ESPN: Would you make that same decision again?

Santos: Yes, I would do it again.

ESPN: What was the biggest effect the injury had on your performance?

Santos: It hampered what I had done best up to that point, which was my movement -- going in and out, exploding in. I wasn't able to use my strongest weapon because of it, so it really did hamper me in the fight. That's me, though. I wasn't going to give up. I wasn't going to stop, even on one leg. It became a mental thing. That's just where I come from and what I've lived through. I was born in the Brazilian slums, and don't forget, I spent seven years in the Brazilian special forces. There is no giving up. It's not an option.

My whole life has been like that. When I was 6, I had a serious operation on my belly. I had two lumps -- two cysts -- around my belly button, and in those days, people didn't know how to treat it. I ended up being saved by surgery two weeks before the cysts might have killed me. When I was 10, my family lost everything we owned in a flood. My life has been full of obstacles.

ESPN: Have you watched the fight since it happened, and if so, do you believe you won?

Santos: Yes, I saw it once last week. It's difficult for me to watch. That's why it took me so long to watch it. If I was a judge, I would have given that fight to Thiago Santos. I think I won Rounds 1, 2 and 5. I think the fact Jones was the champion weighed on the judges' decision. I think the challenger has to do more to take the belt from the champion.

There has to be a rematch. As soon as I am 100%, we have to get back in there and find out a real winner.

ESPN: Do you think the UFC, and Jones, will give you that opportunity?

Santos: It's difficult because of the way the UFC looks at decisions some times, but I'm not focused on that right now. I'm focused on recovering, and when I'm healthy, my focus will still be on becoming a champion. I will come back strong and accomplish that.

All questions and answers were translated by Santos' manager Alex Davis.