Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza: welcome to UFC middleweight title contention.
The Brazilian middleweight Souza toppled Tristar sensation Francis Carmont in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night 36 via unanimous decision, and now Jacare finds himself on the short list of contenders for Chris Weidman's middleweight strap.
With three wins in three trips to the Octagon, the currently No. 3-ranked 185-pounder set himself up beautifully for a championship run in 2014.
Should Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida lose in the night's main event, Jacare will possess a strong claim for the next shot after the May showdown between Weidman and Vitor Belfort at UFC 173.
What We'll Remember About This Fight
This was a super entertaining fight featuring two excellent middleweight combatants.
Souza and Carmont showcased the skill, speed and tenacity that fight lovers crave, redeeming the night's slate of lackluster affairs to that point.
Jacare sank in a deep rear-naked choke in Round 1, and Carmont somehow escaped. That sequence was tense, and Carmont appeared on the verge of passing out before popping his chin out and ending the round in top position. Against a world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Souza, this was no small task.
Carmont then stole Round 2 on two judges' fight cards with superior kickboxing and range, but Souza cranked the intensity for the final frame, again taking Carmont's back and working his submission game.
To Carmont's credit, his submission defense was excellent, and refusing to submit to Jacare after several minutes of unfavorable back control is an accomplishment to be proud of. Unfortunately, it doesn't win fights, and the Canadian suffered his first Octagon defeat for his inability to turn the tables and establish dominant ground position.
Still, this was an entertaining fight, and each guy elevated his status in the division in this writer's eyes. Even though he lost, Carmont impressed with his submission defense and his killer instinct on the feet.
He opened up more than we had seen in previous affairs, and he showed no fear as he went toe-to-toe with an absolute killer in Jacare.
What We Learned About Souza
Souza is ready for a shot at UFC gold.
Now, whether or not he gets it right away or if he has to take another fight first remains to be seen, but the man is ready.
His jiu-jitsu game is unmatched in the division, and his striking is constantly evolving and sharpening. He threw a few spinning back kicks in this fight, and he tagged Carmont on a few occasions with nice counter jabs and hooks.
While he is no kickboxing expert and probably never will be, Souza honed a striking game that can keep him in fights and set up his unstoppable ground attack.
That's a deadly combination, friends.
What We Learned About Carmont
Francis Carmont can be fun. He can be entertaining. He can take a lickin' and keep on kickin' (Sorry, Rampage. I had to steal it.).
Carmont's submission defense was spectacular in this bout, and his striking game was powerful and effective.
He also had some fun taunting Souza inside the cage, revving up the intensity and tension in the bout. All this combined to make one fun, exciting affair.
What's Next For Souza?
Souza's future depends largely on the outcome of the night's main event between Machida and Gegard Mousasi.
If Machida gets past Mousasi, UFC President Dana White said that "The Dragon" could get a title shot. That would obviously stall Souza's ascent to the top, and he would then need another challenge in the meantime.
The loser of UFC 173's middleweight title fight between Weidman and Belfort makes sense, as does Luke Rockhold if he beats Tim Boetsch at UFC 172.
Either way, Jacare is a small step away from getting his chance at ultimate glory inside the 185-pound division.
What's Next for Carmont?
The loser of the UFC Fight Night 36 main event would not displease me as a next step for Carmont, especially if Mousasi is said loser.
However, I think the loser of the previously mentioned bout between Rockhold and Boetsch is a more likely alternative.
Regardless, Carmont hardly takes a step back after his disappointing loss against Souza.