Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza has been an absolute nightmare inside the cage as of late.
The Brazilian submission ace has built an impressive run as he's collected four consecutive victories, putting away all four opponents by way of finish. The former Strikeforce middleweight champion's stock as a title contender in the UFC has risen over his two most recent showings as he's made short work out of gritty-veterans Ed Herman and Chris Camozzi, respectively.
That being said, the 33-year-old's next challenge will be his most difficult to date as he faces off with former title challenger, and apparent guardian to the upper-tier at 185-pounds, Yushin Okami on Wednesday night at Fight Night 28 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
"Thunder" has faced the cream of the crop at 185-pounds and has come out victorious in the large majority of those tilts. In most cases, the fighters who have defeated the Japanese veteran have gone on to earn title shots, while those who have come up short are often reshuffled back into the middleweight deck.
Souza is well aware of the history Okami has built inside the cage, but with the momentum of a four-fight winning streak at his back and feeling better than ever, "The Alligator" is ready to prove he belongs in the title conversation in the middleweight division.
"I feel like a giant," Souza told Bleacher Report. "I'm ready for this challenge. I know he's a tough guy from my division, but I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get in there and I can't wait for the day. I have trained really hard for this fight. I feel very strong and I believe my jiu-jitsu and the power in my punches will make the difference.
"I believe a victory in this match will get me closer to the title, but we'll see where it goes. I know that once I pass him, I'm definitely going to be closer."
In addition to a co-main event slot on a UFC card against a high-profile opponent, Souza will also have the opportunity to once again compete in his home country. Prior to his most recent bout against Camozzi at UFC on FX 8 in May, it had been over five years since he had put his skills on display on his native soil.
With the bout against Okami, the surging contender will have another opportunity to fight in front of his countrymen.
"It is a huge responsibility to fight in front of the Brazilian fans," Souza said. "At the same time, it is good because I'm not going to be fighting alone, I'll be fighting with the entire crowd behind me, and they are going to make things more difficult for Okami."
"Going into this fight I feel better, stronger and that my game has improved. I'm feeling way better than I did going into my last fight and way more prepared. I'm ready to go out there and show how much my game as evolved and how much of a better fighter I am than the last time people saw me."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.