Jacare Souza isn't the middleweight division's squeakiest wheel.
His is a weight class flush with noisemakers, and for much of the last few years, guys like Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping have gotten more than their share of the grease. With the rest of our attentions focused on protracted drama between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, there's been precious little room lately to celebrate quiet perfection.
Never mind that for nearly three years, all Souza has done is win. Never mind that at 35 years old and 24 fights into his MMA career, it's pretty easy to make the case he's quietly emerging as the biggest threat to Weidman's fledgling title reign.
Has he been popped for performance-enhancing drugs? Did he create a colorful character and use it to talk his way into big fights? Is he the division's most unfairly called-out longtime contender?
No? Then it's probably been hard to make a ton of headlines.
On Saturday, Souza may get the chance to change that. His first UFC main event comes as a rematch against Gegard Mousasi and is atop a Fight Night 50 card that is drawing overall positive reviews. If he wins it, Jacare should be the one waiting for the victor of Weidman's December championship showdown with Belfort.
Throughout all of last year, it might've been Belfort who shaped up as Weidman's biggest test. The 37-year-old Brazilian stormed through a trio of contender bouts during 2013, ending all three by head-kick knockout. But back in February, Belfort failed a drug test, and a month later, the UFC banned the controversial testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) that had been fueling his late-career rebound.
Fact is, without TRT and with increased drug testing, we have no idea what version of Belfort will show up to fight the champ at the end of the year. If "The Young Dinosaur" is suddenly in decline, then Souza may eventually prove to be the bigger hazard.
That is, provided the multitime world jiu-jitsu champion and former Strikeforce titlist can get past this weekend's hurdle, where he'll enter as a 3-1 favorite.
Currently the proud owner of a six-fight win streak, Jacare is undefeated in three UFC appearances, including a pair of first-round stoppages during 2013. He's also proved himself to be the sort of special athlete who just seems to get better and better each time out.
During his last UFC appearance, he snapped Francis Carmont's 11-fight win streak with a hard-fought unanimous decision. In two fights prior, he showed off his dangerous and eclectic skill set, blitzing Yushin Okami with strikes and rendering Chris Camozzi unconscious with his vaunted submission game.
Souza is obviously still a grappler at heart, but his all-around MMA arsenal has evolved to the point he can be trouble on the feet if an opponent gets in front of one of his winging power punches. Just ask Okami about that.
Still, he'd probably rather use those strikes to set up his clinch work, takedowns and top game, which figures to be the game plan against the lanky, punch-first Mousasi.
It's tough to know what, if anything, to take from their first meeting. The bout came in the final of Dream's 2008 middleweight grand prix, and both Souza and Mousasi won fights earlier in the evening in order to get there. Their scrap lasted just two minutes, 15 seconds, and Souza appeared to have it well in hand—scoring a takedown inside the first minute—until Mousasi knocked him cold with a scrambling upkick.
Both are entirely different fighters today.
Despite an 11-year, 41-fight career, Mousasi is just over a month removed from turning 29. He's been good, but not great, since coming to the UFC last year, putting up a 2-1 record.
The Dutch-trained kickboxer has remained a bit of an enigma since emerging from an early career spent compiling 13 stoppage victories in his first 15 fights. he is one of those compelling and frustrating case studies—a guy who appears to have all the tools but occasionally just doesn't show up.
In February, he lost to Lyoto Machida in both men's debuts in the UFC middleweight division, but Mousasi stormed back to flatten Mark Munoz in under four minutes. A bout with Souza certainly represents his chance to plant a flag near the top of the 185-pound contender list.
But while Jacare's career has been typified by rapid improvement and a steady climb up the ranks, Mousasi has been a mixed bag. If both guys show up in prime form, it stands to reason the former Strikeforce middleweight champion will be a handful for Mousasi.
And Souza might well go on to make a little noise against the UFC champ, too.