While Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza's victory Saturday night in St. Louis wasn't flashy or quick, Souza took a big step towards the middleweight elite in not just Strikeforce, but all of MMA.
Souza stepped in against a very well rounded and game opponent in Joey Villasenor. Souza entered the cage an already heralded fighter, very likely the second best grappler in the world after Roger Gracie and has already complied 10 submission victories in MMA.
Nicknamed 'Jacare,' or Alligator, Souza has won five Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships, holds a black belt in judo and has won the ADCCs twice. His grappling credentials are unquestionable, but Souza is determined to be a true mixed martial artist.
With that in mind Souza began training at the famed Black House gym, under Ed Soares, and Souza has proved to be a natural at the striking game. Since his 2008 loss to Gegard Mousasi, Souza's stand up has improved by leaps and bounds, culminating in his out-striking of an accomplished Muay Thai fighter in Villasenor.
Villasenor looked like he was caught completely off guard by how fast and technical Jacare's striking was, and it took Villasenor over a round and half to adjust. And when he did adjust another big question about Souza was answered, the quality of his chin.
In Souza's first MMA fight, in 2003, a 23-year-old Jacare was knocked out by a fairly innocent looking punch by vale tudo fighter Jorge Patino. Since then Souza's chin has been in question, how much weight do you give to a kid who isn't used to being hit getting KOed in his first fight?
Villasenor landed some big shots on Souza, who never looked rocked or dazed. There was one instance in the fight it was clear that Villasenor had landed a shot that hurt Souza and Jacare had the presence of mind to change levels and explode.
This brings us to Souza's wrestling, which looked outstanding. Souza is a fantastic athlete and he showed off a power double leg worthy of NCAA All-Americans. Combine this with his excellent Judo and it is starting to look like Souza could very well be the future of the middleweight division.
At 30 years old, Jacare Souza has four or five more years of fighting prime and he seems to be focused more than ever on MMA. The combination of athleticism and skill he has is frightening and he is just getting better.
Anderson Silva has said that he thinks that Souza will be the best middleweight in the world in two years and after last night, I'm inclined to agree.