The UFC has absorbed Strikeforce's most worthy fighters, creating a plethora of savory matchmaking possibilities for fans to salivate over.
One particular Strikeforce transplant, however, has fans eagerly jumping into his UFC hype train. If MMA message boards reflect the MMA fan community, then this man is entering the UFC on the crest of a wave of hype and enthusiasm.
I'm talking about alligator-man Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
I've tried to temper my enthusiasm, but I find myself investing great hope into Souza's future. He owns freakish physical abilities coupled with elite skills, a combination that has led many hardcore fans to predict that “Jacare” will haunt the dreams of UFC middleweights.
The Brazilian ogre will be a terror, and there are many reasons to believe Souza will flourish and excite in the Octagon.
Scope out these reasons to be excited for “Jacare” and post your thoughts below:
If you haven't paid Strikeforce any attention, I'll be the first to inform you that Ronaldo Souza is one of the two or three best grapplers in MMA. That's not hyperbole. His positional grappling is marvelous, and his submissions come with inventive setups and crushing force.
Souza's clout is evidenced by his trophy case, which holds an ADCC Submission Grappling gold medal, the most coveted gold in grappling, among an assortment of trophies he's earned for crushing windpipes and bending joints.
The grappling wizard has parlayed his success in professional grappling into success in MMA. "Jacare" holds 10 submission victories among his 17 wins against good competition (not including tapping to strikes), a testament to his bloodthirst and penchant for finishes.
The bane of many submission specialists in MMA is their inability to force a standing fight into a grappling match. That hasn't been a problem for “Jacare” even though he's faced several accomplished wrestlers.
More often than not, Souza dictates whether his fights unfold on the ground or not, thanks to his comprehensive takedown ability.
Souza's black belt in judo verifies his ability to ground his foes with cheeky trips and throws, yet he showed an expanded takedown arsenal against wrestler Ed Herman.
Last Saturday, Souza dumped Herman on the mat like a sack of rotten apples with a powerful, well-timed double-leg takedown. The submission came soon after.
Never before had Ed Herman, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt himself, looked so inept on the ground, even when he faced grappling ace Demian Maia.
To further illustrate Souza's wrestling prowess: He grounded lauded wrestler Luke Rockhold five times in their bout while warding off Rockhold's only attempt, and "Jacare" took grappler Tim Kennedy down twice without being taken down himself.
In retrospect, though, it would have been foolish for Rockhold, Kennedy or any mortal to tempt the Kraken that is Souza's guard, a risk that makes taking Souza down seem silly.
Souza seems more willing to operate from top control than from the bottom, a preference that endears him to MMA judges, who often mistake fighters working from their back as flailing babies.
Also, the newcomer's strength—his top game—will serve him well against UFC middleweights because so few fighters in that weight class have the wrestling pedigree to negate Souza's takedowns or the ground skills to neutralize his control and submissions.
This man does not "lay and pray." This man does not mess around.
Souza's primary weapon will always be his jiu-jitsu. He's very likely to enjoy a grappling advantage over every foe he'll oppose, but that doesn't mean his other weapons aren't lethal.
The early stages of Souza's career saw his punches and kicks rendered snail-like, forcing "Jacare" to hex the prospect of kickboxing matches by relying solely on his grappling. As his career proceeded, however, Souza's improvements on the feet became discernible.
Towards his striking game, it seems that Souza demonstrates the same brilliance and eagerness to learn that propelled him to the top of the grappling world.
Perhaps the Brazilian golem sharpened his striking game so acutely because he trains at Black House, a gym attended by the highest order of MMA strikers.
It stands to reason that "Jacare" has extracted volumes of knowledge from his sparring wars with Anderson Silva and Junior dos Santos.
In fact, Souza seemed to channel Junior dos Santos in his recent bout with Derek Brunson, in which "Jacare" smeared Brunson with a sublime counterpunch. That night, Souza punched and dodged with the same swagger that gushes from him when he's honing in on a submission.
His raw power was verified. That was his first knockout and it won't be his last.
Even before his fight with Brunson, Souza proved his legitimacy as a striker. Against Rockhold, "Jacare" was outpointed, but the Brazilian landed 31 power head shots on Rockhold while maintaining good accuracy. Meekness was Souza's folly.
The shyness Souza displayed against Rockhold seems to have left him, allowing "Jacare" to bury his last three foes with ease and confidence.
It's fun to think how "Jacare" matches up with the UFC's diverse roster of middleweights. A multitude of captivating, competitive fights are already within reach for the snarling jiu-jitsu alligator.
As I touched on earlier, there aren't a lot of fighters at 185 pounds who could predictably deny Souza's takedowns with regularity. Seasoned grapplers like Yushin Okamo and Chris Weidman, however, would provide a stiff challenge to Souza's grappling.
During his UFC tenure, Okami has been outwrestled by only Chael Sonnen, and Weidman has never been taken down in his UFC career. If Souza fights either man, a series of intense, grueling grappling exchanges could easily unfold.
Speaking of Sonnen, if he ever returns to middleweight, a clash between him and Souza would surely provide a prodigious grappling display. Imagine the classic juxtaposition between a hardened Olympic wrestler, Sonnen, and an ADCC caliber submission artist, "Jacare".
To keep it real, Weidman seems like an ideal opponent for "Jacare." Like Souza, Weidman owns ADCC grappling credentials. His skill is enough to survive and perhaps even threaten Souza on the canvas. I smile when I imagine the epic scrambles, reversals and sprawls this fight could deliver.
And don't worry: Even if their wrestling neutralizes each other and their fight is a striking match, it's bound to deliver more intensity than Weidman vs. Maia. Unlike Maia, Souza is explosive and capable as a striker, as is Weidman when he is afforded adequate time to prepare for a fight.
Moving on: Souza is bound to meet an adept striker in the Octagon. Alan Belcher, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort and Cung Le are better strikers than any Souza has fought thus far (aside from Gegard Mousasi, maybe).
While their attempts to stuff Souza's takedowns may be futile, their ability to finish fights with a single swing will provide "Jacare" with a novel challenge; a challenge Souza will meet with either his own thudding punches or swift takedowns.
How will Souza approach a hellacious striker?
Alas, we'll likely never be treated to a match between Souza and his buddy, middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Silva employs a strict "no fighting friends" policy.
Furthermore, Silva has only a handful of fights left in his tyrannical reign over the UFC, and he's going to use them to make high-profile attractions. "Jacare," a relatively unknown commodity, doesn't meet Silva's quota.
Once Silva is displaced, "Jacare" is a dark horse title hopeful. His size, strength and anomalous skills give him a unique advantage over his middleweight adversaries.