Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza appears to be closing in on a title shot. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Packed with a mixture of relevant bouts, crackling action fights and talented up-and-comers, this is one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s best offerings on Fox Sports 1 since the inception of the series in August 2013. Atop the card, Ronaldo Souza takes on Gegard Mousasi in an intriguing stylistic matchup between two of the division’s most skilled veterans -- a rematch that may well determine the next challenger for the middleweight title.
In the co-main event, Alistair Overem can insert himself back into the heavyweight title picture with an impressive win over Ben Rothwell, while blue-chipper Justin Scoggins attempts to right the ship against former flyweight championship challenger John Moraga. From top to bottom, this is a show that is well worth the viewer’s time.
Here is an in-depth look at the UFC Fight Night “Jacare vs. Mousasi 2” card on Saturday at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn., with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsRonaldo Souza (20-3, 3-0 UFC) vs. Gegard Mousasi (35-4-2, 2-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Following a title run in Strikeforce and a three-fight winning streak in the UFC, Souza seeks revenge on Dutch-Armenian enigma Gegard Mousasi in a rematch nearly six years in the making. Mousasi ended Souza’s night in their first bout with a perfect upkick that put the decorated grappler down for the count at Dream 6 in September 2008. Since then, the Dutchman has toed the edge of stardom and greatness but has never quite been able to take the leap into MMA’s elite despite his obvious talent. This is a fight of tremendous importance in the middleweight division, and if Souza wins, nobody will deserve the next shot at the title more.
There might be more technically sound grapplers than “Jacare” currently fighting in a cage, but if so, it is an extremely short list. What makes his game even more dangerous in an MMA context is his unreal athleticism and explosiveness -- something he has for years explicitly emphasized in his training. That is rare among high-level jiu-jitsu players, at least in comparison to similarly credentialed wrestlers.
His top game is one of the very best in the sport, with vicious ground striking, smooth, quick passes, fantastic control and an opportunistic nose for kimuras and arm triangles. Unlike many elite grapplers, Souza also possesses a highly effective and diverse arsenal of takedowns, featuring ultra-quick shots and slick trips from the clinch. He does a beautiful job of integrating his clinch striking with takedowns, unleashing knees in sequence with trips and throws. If Souza has a weakness, however, it is his pure striking acumen; while it serves as an effective bridge to his inside game, giving him smooth clinch entries and disguising his level changes, his output is limited and he is extremely right-hand dominant. Despite his excellent power-punching fundamentals and the difficulty opponents have hitting him squarely, a bout contested mostly at range would be very difficult for “Jacare” to win.
Mousasi has always been something of a puzzle. Although he has a full command of the component skills, with his dangerous grappling, slick clinch takedowns and clean boxing, his overall game seems to add up to less than its individual parts. The basis for Mousasi’s success has generally been his smooth, high-output striking, with its focus on a sharp jab, cracking low kicks and the technical use of angles and footwork. He is almost impossible to hit cleanly, and it is difficult to lay hands on him at all. Because of this striking ability -- he has been successful against K-1 heavyweight kickboxers -- Mousasi’s rock-solid grappling has often gone overlooked. His guard is absolutely deadly, featuring quick triangle attacks, sweeps and the ever-present threat of his sneaky upkicks when opponents attempt to posture up and drop bombs. He is no less dangerous from the top, with consistent ground striking, nifty passes and lethal submissions, especially his rear-naked choke. Wrestling, and more specifically takedown defense, has traditionally been Mousasi’s Achilles’ heel, but this weakness has been overstated. More than anything, it is wrestling against the cage that has been the problem, and that weak point is disappearing with experience.
Betting Odds: Souza (-325), Mousasi (+265)
The Pick: While the strength of Souza’s recent run cannot be denied, it is puzzling that the oddsmakers have him as more than a 3-to-1 favorite against a fighter who beat him before and possesses the skills to do so again. “Jacare’s” game depends on being able to pin his opponent near the fence, where he can work his clinch and shot takedowns most effectively while minimizing the liability of his short frame and average footwork. Mousasi, on the other hand, depends on being able to stay away from the fence, where he can sprawl and use his balance to avoid single-legs. The key for Souza will be using the threat of his takedowns in the middle of the cage to land strikes and push Mousasi toward the perimeter, while the Dutchman will need to maintain consistent output with his jab and avoid “Jacare’s” wrestling game. This is a coin-flip fight to me, but the deciding factor is Mousasi’s tendency to move straight backward when pressured, which should play into Souza’s game just enough for the Brazilian to have a slight edge. “Jacare” by unanimous decision is the pick.
Next Fight » Alistair Overeem vs. Ben Rothwell