LAS VEGAS – Geoff Neal had to dig deep Saturday in order to defeat Santiago Ponzinibbio but he was up to the task.

In the third fight of the UFC 269 main card, Neal (14-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) defeated Ponzinibbio (28-5 MMA, 10-4 UFC) via split decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28).

UFC 269 took place Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card aired on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.

After back-to-back knockouts to kick off the UFC 269 main card, the welterweight fight was fought at a much slower tempo with less shots connecting on the target. Both men were hesitant, and fouls broke up the flow of a close first round.

In Round 2, Ponzinibbio attempted to drag the fight to the canvas but Neal reversed and escaped. The technical pitter-patter on the feet continued and Ponzinibbio sported a cut under his left eye. Both fighters appeared a bit tired but continued to keep up the same pace.

With five minutes left on the clock, Fortis MMA head coach Sayif Saud explicitly told Neal he needed more from him. The fiery pump-up speech worked, at least initially – as Neal came out firing with a big combination early in the round. Perhaps sensing a sense of urgency, both men opened up as the round progressed.

While perhaps not the action-packed fight the crowd was expecting, it remained close throughout. But there could only be one winner, and the judges saw that to be Neal.

Finding his range in the 3rd

[ @HandzOfSteelMMA | #UFC269 ] pic.twitter.com/I4qQOUMjGL

— UFC (@ufc) December 12, 2021

The win is big for Neal, who snaps a two-fight losing skid with the victory. Neal entered UFC 269 off back-to-back unanimous decision defeats to top contenders Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny. Neal also holds victories over Belal Muhammad, Mike Perry, and Niko Price among others.

Neal found himself in the midst of legal struggles less than three weeks prior to his UFC 269 bout when he was arrested for alleged DWI and weapons charges in the early morning of Thanksgiving 2021.

As for Ponzinibbio, the loss is his second in his most recent three fights. Following a 26-month layoff from November 2018 to January 2021, Ponzinibbio was rudely re-welcomed to competition by Li Jingliang, who brutally knocked him out. In June, Ponzinibbio defeated Miguel Baeza before he finished the year 2-1 as a result of Saturday’s loss.

Up-to-the-minute results of UFC 269 include:

Geoff Neal def. Santiago Ponzinibbio via split decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Kai Kara-France def. Cody Garbrandt via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:21
Sean O’Malley def. Raulian Paiva via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 4:42
Josh Emmett def. Dan Ige via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Dominick Cruz def. Pedro Munhoz via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Tai Tuivasa def. Augusto Sakai via knockout (punches) – Round 2, 0:26
Bruno Silva def. Jordan Wright via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 1:28
Andre Muniz def. Eryk Anders via submission (armbar) – Round 1, 3:13
Erin Blanchfield def. Miranda Maverick via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Ryan Hall def. Darrick Minner via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-27)
Tony Kelley def. Randy Costa via TKO (elbows) – Round 2, 4:15
Gillian Robertson def. Priscila Cachoeira via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 4:59

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