mma / Columns

Examining Jacare Souza’s Quest For a Title Shot Before His Career Ends

April 22, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Jacare Souza UFC Ronaldo Souza

For a fighter, the end is typically tough to swallow, and comes only after long series of diminishing performance and unfortunate results. There is a period just before the end where it looks like the fighter might just be able to keep fighting at the same level for a bit longer. For elite fighters, that means keeping title hopes in sight, and commonly leads to harsh career endings (since fighters at that level compete against the best opposition).

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is 39 years old. He has begun talking about retirement, but he’s in the camp of those that still have title hopes in sight. Souza has never received a shot at the UFC middleweight title; at his age and having traded wins and losses in his last four fights, his window is rapidly closing.

Souza fights Saturday in what was initially going to be a fight that could have gotten him to that title shot. He was supposed to fight Yoel Romero in a rematch of their close 2015 bout, a fight that was intended as a title eliminator. Instead, with Romero battling pneumonia, Souza will fight Jack Hermansson on Saturday. While a win over the tough Hermansson at 39 would be impressive, it’s less likely to put Souza in the title fight he’s hoping for compared to a win over Romero.

Souza never competing for the UFC middleweight title is a hard pill to swallow considering his status in the division over the past ten years. He’s been a consistent top 10 middleweight since 2010, and prior to that he was one of the most promising fighters in the division.

His first taste of major league MMA came in 2008. He was a multiple time world champion in jiu-jitsu and had a 7-1 MMA record by the time he signed on to compete in Dream. Dream rose in the ashes of Pride, attempting to revitalize a Japanese MMA market that had fallen drastically in the wake of the scandals that toppled Pride. It began with lightweight and middleweight tournaments, signing an impressive roster of talent for both. In addition to Souza, Dream’s middleweight tournament included Melvin Manhoef, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and Souza’s eventual finals opponent, Gegard Mousasi.

After defeating Miller and Zelg Galesic, Souza collided with Mousasi with Dream’s middleweight title hanging in the balance. Jacare brought Mousasi to the ground early, but a well-timed up-kick from Mousasi turned his lights out, bringing a spectacular end to Souza’s first MMA title hopes.

The following year, after Mousasi moved up to light heavyweight, Souza had another opportunity to fight for the Dream middleweight title. He fought Jason Miller with the title up for grabs in the main event of Dream 9, which thanks to Kid Yamamoto’s return fight against Joe Warren drew the biggest television number of Dream’s entire run. The show averaged a 16.2 rating, with Yamamoto vs. Warren pulling a 19.1 rating. While the show was a television success, the main event ended it on a damper: Miller cut Souza with an illegal soccer kick, and the cut ended the fight on a no contest.

Before he could take on Miller again in a planned third fight, Souza signed with Strikeforce in August 2009. Earlier in the year, Strikeforce expanded massively from a major regional promotion to a full-fledged national promotion by purchasing select assets of ProElite and taking its valuable television slot on Showtime. Part of that expansion was a substantial increase in talent, which included a strong middleweight division.

By the end of 2009, Strikeforce’s middleweight roster included Souza, Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler, Cung Le, Jason Miller, Luke Rockhold, Tim Kennedy, and Matt Lindland. For a number two promotion to a powerhouse industry leader, it was an impressive roster.

Souza rose up the Strikeforce middleweight ranks quickly. In December 2009, he stopped Lindland—who by then had fallen from his status as an elite middleweight—in the first round. Then he bested veteran Joey Villasenor in May 2010. With middleweight champion Jake Shields having jumped ship to the UFC, Souza squared off with Kennedy for the vacant title and won a unanimous decision.

He’d successfully defend the title just once—a submission win over Robbie Lawler—before Luke Rockhold defeated him.

The ensuing years have seen Souza claw his way toward another golden opportunity. He won his last three Strikeforce bouts by stoppage. Upon arriving in the UFC, he won his first two fights by stoppage, including a first-round knockout win over Yushin Okami. In 2014, Souza had his revenge against Gegard Mousasi, submitting him in the third round.

By 2015, Jacare had won seven consecutive fights, six of them by stoppage, and was among the very best middleweights in the world. Still, he took a back seat to Vitor Belfort, who earned his title shot while looking like the scariest fighter in the division on TRT, and then returned without TRT and was significantly less effective fighter. He also fell in line behind Luke Rockhold, who had a more recently loss than Souza (to TRT Belfort, as it was), but stayed ahead of Jacare based on their previous fight and Rockhold’s win over Lyoto Machida.

At the end of the year, Jacare fought Yoel Romero in a fight ostensibly for a title shot. After dropping to a spinning back fist in round one, Jacare came back to make round two close, and then won round three. One judge gave him the fight, but two leaned Romero’s way.

Souza remained at the top of his game after that close loss, but looked old for the first time against future middleweight titlist Robert Whittaker in 2017. Whittaker was steps ahead of Souza, and knocked him out in the second round. It was Souza’s first stoppage loss since Mousasi eight years prior. Perhaps that performance was hampered by a torn pectoral Souza had suffered before the fight. After all, he did rebound.

Since that Whittaker fight, Souza knocked out Derek Brunson, lost a close decision to Kelvin Gastelum, and knocked out former champion Chris Weidman in an exciting fight.

He certainly has the resume, and based on his past few fights, he can still compete with the very best. Perhaps that ability won’t last much longer, which makes it imperative for Souza to make the minutes he has left in the cage count as he marches toward a deserved UFC title shot.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Jacare Souza, UFC, Dan Plunkett