Ronaldo Souza and Francis Carmont will look to steal the show at UFC Fight Night 36, a fight card headlined by fellow middleweights Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi.
Since losing to Luke Rockhold in a narrow decision that cost him his Strikeforce championship, Souza has won five straight fights. Undefeated in his two UFC appearances, "Jacare" could establish himself as the next 185-pound title challenger with an impressive win on Saturday.
Teammates with former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, Carmont has mainly utilized wrestling to go unbeaten through his first six UFC outings. While he hasn't been scoring many memorable victories, Carmont would really impress should he beat Souza on the ground.
As this intriguing co-main event approaches, here is a look at how Souza and Carmont match up in all areas.
Ronaldo Souza's striking has come a long way since his loss to Luke Rockhold.
Before Strikeforce was shut down, "Jacare" floored Derek Brunson with a step-back right hook, recording the first knockout win of his MMA career. More recently, Souza stopped Yushin Okami with punches and established himself as a serious contender in the UFC's middleweight division.
Although his only knockout loss came in November 2004, Carmont has been hesitant to stand with anybody inside the Octagon. Like training partner Georges St-Pierre, Carmont has played it smart and taken the safest route to victory whenever he could.
Souza may still have trouble standing with elite strikers, but a fighter doesn't just knock out Okami without having pretty good hands. Carmont, meanwhile, hasn't really spent enough time on his feet to prove he's capable of trading with high-level middleweights.
While Jacare may not have the most technically brilliant striking, he's shown recently that he can match the power of most 185-pounders. That may be all he needs when standing with Carmont, who hasn't shown much more than a decent jab.
In six UFC appearances, Carmont has attempted 27 takedowns.
This could be the matchup that forces the Tristar Gym fighter out of his comfort zone, though. One of the strongest jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, Souza is not an opponent whom Carmont would want to spend a ton of time on the ground with.
Even after eating some hard shots from Souza early, Okami did not attempt a takedown on Souza before getting stopped. That was the first time in well over three years the Japanese middleweight did not try to take an opponent to the ground.
While Carmont might not plan on forcing this fight to the ground, he's going to have a tough time keeping "Jacare" from doing so.
Souza has scored takedowns in five of his past seven fights, and the two opponents he didn't take down were knocked out in the first round. Carmont, meanwhile, has surrendered takedowns to Karlos Vemola and Tom Lawlor, neither of whom has the grappling credentials owns by Souza.
Souza has a sizable advantage over most, and maybe all, UFC middleweights on the ground.
While Carmont has controlled recent opponents from the top position, he'd be in serious danger rolling with Souza. A former world champion in jiu-jitsu, Souza has picked up 14 of his 19 MMA wins via submissions.
In his past three fights, "Jacare" has submitted UFC veterans Chris Camozzi and Ed Herman.
Having been submitted three times in his MMA career, Carmont's submission defense is not without holes despite what he has shown since joining the UFC roster. Souza will be able to stop the Frenchman at any moment and from any position when this fight goes to the ground.
While Carmont has more Octagon experience than his UFC Fight Night 36 adversary, Souza has competed in plenty of big fights prior to joining the UFC roster.
The former Strikeforce champion has gone five rounds multiple times, proving that three rounds shouldn't challenge his conditioning on Saturday. Carmont should also be able to go 15 minutes without issue, having done so in four of his six UFC bouts.
A Tristar Gym member, Carmont may have a more solid camp behind him. However, it doesn't take a master game-planner to instruct him to avoid grappling with Souza. And "Jacare" isn't exactly training with chumps at X Gym in Brazil either.
It almost looks as though the UFC matchmakers are sending Carmont a message with this matchup.
If he is going to force opponents to the ground and make minimal effort to finish, the Frenchman is going to start finding himself in bouts with elite grapplers. Souza is looking to do more than teach Carmont a lesson, though, as he has his sights set on making a middleweight title run.
Carmont's usual advantage on the ground will be more than missing on Saturday. Even if he does have an edge when standing, Carmont is going to have a rough time remaining upright for very long.
Souza defeats Carmont by submission in the first round.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.
Images via UFC.com unless otherwise noted.