Canadian flyweight Gillian (The Savage) Robertson has won four of her last five UFC fights, adding to the record book as she goes.
The 25-year-old from Niagara Falls, Ont., who now calls Port Saint Lucie, Fla., home, has the most submission wins among UFC women flyweights (4) and is tied for the most victories in the division (6).
Robertson (9-4-0) looks to add to that resume Saturday when she faces Taila Santos (16-1-0) in a televised event at the UFC Apex production facility in Las Vegas.
It pits the grappler, Robertson, against a striker, Santos. The Canadian likes her chances.
“MMA jiu-jitsu, I feel like I’m definitely one of the top,” she said. “A lot of these girls know what I’m going for, they know what I want. And it’s still going to happen.”
Robertson has converted 14 of 28 takedown attempts in the UFC including six of 11 in her last two fights. According to MMA by the Numbers, Robertson has spent 62.8 per cent of her UFC fight time in top position. That ranks fourth in UFC history.
Robertson was awarded her black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the days leading up to her last fight, a decision win over Poliana Botelho on Oct. 17 in Abu Dhabi.
Saturday’s main events pits fifth-ranked welterweight contender Steven (Wonderboy) Thompson against No. 11 Geoff (Handz of Steel) Neal.
Canadian bantamweight Aiemann Zahabi (7-2-0) meets UFC newcomer Drako (The Great Drakolini) Rodriguez (7-1-0) on the undercard. The 33-year-old from Laval, Que., the younger brother of renowned trainer Firas Zahabi, has lost his last two UFC outings after winning his UFC debut by decision over Reginaldo Vieira.
Robertson, ranked 13th among 125-pound contenders, had been slated to face No. 11 Andrea (KGB) Lee at UFC 256 on Dec. 12. Santos, whose Dec. 5 fight was called off when her opponent tested positive for COVID-19, stepped in when Lee was injured in training,
Robertson’s bout was subsequently pushed back to Saturday with the change in opponents.
Santos, 27, is 1-1 in the UFC since graduating from Dana White’s Contender Series. She is coming off a July win by decision over Molly (Meatball) McCann after losing her UFC debut to Maria Romero Borella.
Robertson said the late change in opponent isn’t that difficult given she was signed to fight Santos several months ago only to have the bout derailed by pandemic-related travel restrictions for the Brazilian.
Robertson fought Cortney Casey instead on June 20, submitting her with 24 seconds remaining in the bout to record the first Canadian win at the Apex.
“I studied her a little bit back then. I’ve studied her now,” said Robertson. “She’s a great opponent for me. She’s primarily a striker and she doesn’t have a lot to offer me on the ground so this fight should go primarily my way.”
Robertson was part of the cast of Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2017, losing by KO to Barb Honchak on the reality TV show.
“It was honestly probably one of the worst and one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “Because you’re surrounded by high-level training partners, high-level coaches and getting the best work in the world.
“But you also have no phone, no music, no TV, no books and you’re in a house with 16 strangers. It’s a stressful situation but definitely an amazing situation and one I’m thankful for.”
She bounced back to win her UFC debut in December 2017 in the TUF Finale and is now 6-2-0 in the promotion.
Robertson was seven when her family left Niagara Falls for Florida so her mother could take a nursing job in the Miami area.
“We were supposed to only move down for one year but then they just couldn’t go back to the cold,” she said with a chuckle.
Her grandparents still live in Niagara Falls and Robertson spends “most” of her holidays and summers up there.
Robertson says she got into combat sports “on a whim,” deciding to take a cardio kickboxing class. Her father was working for the humane society at the time and one of his co-workers was a pro mixed martial artist under former UFC fighter Din Thomas.
That led her to Thomas’s gym and a coaching relationship that remains today. The two have worked together since Robertson was 16.
Robertson went on to fall in love with jiu-jitsu, making her amateur debut at age 18 and winning nine of 11 fights before making her pro debut in March 2016.
Her nickname — The Savage — came after her first amateur fight. Thomas wrote an email to their fight team saying “She’s as quiet as a mouse but when she walks into the cage, she turns into a savage.”
When not training two to three times a day and “napping a lot,” Robertson spends time with her 12-year-old Pit Bull Terrier, Robin.
Robertson is hard to miss with trademark red hair. She decided to dye it before her pro debut and has stuck with it.
“I feel like I can’t change it now,” she said.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press