This writer was among the many who thought Yushin Okami should be favored in his fight against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Then Okami came out tentative, slow and unwilling to engage. That is a recipe for disaster when it comes to a talent like Souza, and that became obvious when Okami had his head punched into the stands by the mammoth Brazilian.
In spite of the poor effort, Okami is one of the few names at 185 pounds that has endured over the last five years. That makes this a major win for Souza, no matter which way it gets sliced.
The question, obviously, becomes “what is next for Souza?”
While many are already, perhaps rightly, calling for a title shot, that is a bit premature right now. Souza may or may not have the raw skill to take the belt, but the line for the 185-pound strap is very defined right now.
Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva face off in one of the most hotly anticipated rematches in MMA history at UFC 168 on December 28. After that, we will likely see Vitor Belfort square off with the winner, assuming he gets past Dan Henderson at UFC Fight Night 32 (in spite of the fact the fight is at light heavyweight, a loss would likely be enough of a hit to separate him from a title shot yet again). Realistically, that ties the belt up until July 2014 at the very earliest.
That means Souza has time for, at the very least, one more fight. The top of the middleweight division is in something of a disarray right now, making any definitive matchups impossible to pick, but there are still a few options for the sudden star.
The most obvious next step for Souza is the winner of Michael Bisping vs. Mark Munoz.
Bisping's harsh knockout loss to Belfort in January is still fresh in many minds. However, the British kickboxer remains one of the most popular fighters in the UFC, and probably the most in-demand opponent in the sport. A win over Bisping would be Souza, more or less, showing he is the next generation of contender at 185 pounds.
Munoz, like Bisping, is still reeling from a harsh knockout loss (for Munoz, that would be his loss to Weidman). However, he bounced back in much more emphatic fashion with his three-round demolition of Tim Boetsch. He lacks Bisping's fame, but should he beat the Brit this October, he will wind up with a higher level of celebrity and more to offer Souza as an opponent.
Bisping vs. Munoz isn't the only intriguing middleweight fight lined up in the future, though. The upcoming bout between former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and Strikeforce import Tim Kennedy is an intriguing fight.
A fight with Machida, who trains with Souza, is unlikely given the general reluctance for Black House members to face one another. However, should Kennedy pull off the upset, it would be a compelling rematch of 2010's Strikeforce middleweight title bout (Souza won via unanimous decision) and would be an excellent top-contender bout.
All that said, should Silva retake his belt, it may put Souza's title hopes on the shelf. “The Spider” and Souza are Black House teammates, and the Brazilian camp's members tend to avoid each other in the cage.
Still, between Bisping, Munoz and Kennedy, there are intriguing matchups for him.
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