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"El Rasta" left behind a comfortable life in Argentina when he moved to Brazil to pursue mixed martial arts. He came without any money or family support and was faced with financial difficulties and adapting to a new country. Initially forced to live in a tent and offer massages on the beach, a determined Santiago eventually worked his way up to living exclusively off his fighting prowess. Today, he dreams of establishing himself in the top echelons of the country’s MMA ranks and setting an example for all, "I have everything, I managed to make it work. I am not any more special than anyone else. I am living proof that everyone can do this."
It was then that he decided that he would spend a month in Florianópolis. "When I came to Brazil, I could not speak the language and knew nothing or no one from around here. On the beach, when I saw someone with a jiu-jitsu shirt, I went back and tried to find out where the guy trained," he says. The vacation become permanent, and Santiago started seriously training and competing here. But, life was not easy. At first, there were many problems: lack of a place to live, money was scarce and he had no family support in Argentina. However, with effort and creativity, he was getting by. He lived in a tent on the beach for four months, where he provided massages during the day. He also sold beer, chicken sandwiches and crafts on the side. And he was still a waiter and bartender at a restaurant. Santiago always found a way to support himself and never stopped training.
One of Santiago’s supporters has been UFC lightweight Thiago Tavares, a local resident that offered him a place in the gym where he trains. Although initially a little green, the Argentine exuded willpower and a good temperament, earning him a place on the team and excelling in MMA competitions. Starting at a gym of that caliber was a challenge - being on a team of highly skilled athletes shook his confidence a little. "I only took beatings," he recalls. "But I'm very stubborn; once I set my mind to something I do it. I don’t hesitate, I just go."
Four years later, however, the fighter's life has changed a lot. Today he lives with his Brazilian girlfriend, and thanks to a good sponsorship, does not teach anymore so he can dedicate himself to training. His family supports him now and, as he describes it, is "fanatical." Even his mother, although unable to attend his fights, is a big fan. Now he’s putting all he’s got into winning The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 2 and becoming the first MMA idol in Argentina.
He does not speculate much about the future, but now feels quite at home in Brazil – even though Lionel Messi is still his idol. "I am very grateful to Brazil, I love this country," he says. He does not currently have any intentions of returning to Argentina. All his previous difficulties now serve, in his opinion, as examples he shares to motivate those who are in situations similar to those he went through. Santiago also wants to prove that Argentines, in contrast to their reputation, are not arrogant. "I know this is part of the myth, but let's leave this rivalry for football," jokes the Argentine nice guy.