The world is gearing up for arguably the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet- the final of the FIFA World Cup. Before Argentina and France face off, Lionel Messi’s compatriot, UFC fighter Santiago Ponzinibbio, has heaped praises on La Albiceleste’s captain. The 36-year-old mixed martial artist has compared Messi’s stature in the world of sports to that of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and Muhammad Ali.

Messi has won almost every individual and team honour in his career, but what has remained out of his reach is the elusive FIFA World Cup. If he does manage to bring the cup home, his status in Argentina will be at par with the legendary Diego Maradona.

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Ponzinibbio, who defeated Alex Moreno in the UFC 282 final via a knockout, said to TMZ Sports, “I think it’s Michael Jordan, these kind of guys. Legends of the sport, all-time. I think Messi is on this level. Michael Jordan. Tom Brady,” later including boxing great Muhammad Ali into the mix.

The UFC welterweight has also had the back of the PSG star when Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez lashed out at Messi after a video emerged when the Argentina captain can be seen brushing off a Mexico jersey with his feet. 

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After the video was released via Nicolas Otamendi’s account, Alvarez said on Twitter, “Did you guys see Messi cleaning the floor with our jersey and flag? He better pray to God that I don’t find him. Just like I respect Argentina, he has to respect Mexico! I’m not talking about the country as a whole, just about the bulls*** that Messi did.”

In response to Alvarez, Ponzinibbio had said to MMA Fighting, “No point threatening Messi. Everybody knows Messi’s career. If [Canelo] doesn’t know he shouldn’t say a thing,” further adding, “It’s normal for players to throw jerseys on the ground, they are all sweaty, but he didn’t do anything disrespectful. Everybody that knows Messi knows he’s an impeccable athlete and a very respectful person.”

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The 36-year-old also told Canelo that he would be interested in fighting him if the Mexican boxer wants to settle the score inside the ring, further adding, “You mess with Messi, you mess with the entire Argentina. Don’t bother the kid.”