Ronaldo Souza (15-3, 5-1 Strikeforce) vs. Derek Brunson (9-1, 3-0 Strikeforce)
The Matchup: Strikeforce officials could not have been thrilled to see one of their unbeaten prospects suffer his first career loss outside the promotion, but Brunson gets a pass for taking a fight against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove at ShoFight 20 on just four days’ notice. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product slammed Grove to the mat repeatedly in the bout but struggled with the Hawaiian’s range on the feet and failed to establish dominance from top position. Brunson, who was originally expected to face Souza at Strikeforce “Tate vs. Rousey” before a failed eye exam forced him out of the fight, will have to show significant improvement against the former 185-pound kingpin.
Souza did as expected in his last outing, submitting replacement opponent Bristol Marunde with a third-round arm-triangle choke in March. The Brazilian would undoubtedly like to get another shot at current Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, and a solid effort against Brunson could secure him that opportunity. “Jacare,” a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and the 2005 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, remains one of the most decorated grapplers in the sport today, but it is versatility that makes him more formidable than your average ground specialist.
Souza has good speed and power in his standup, and he is confident enough in his skills to remain on his feet for extended periods of time. Witness his five-round triumph over Tim Kennedy in 2010, where the X-Gym representative spent the entirety of the bout standing. This could prove to be pivotal against Brunson, a three-time NCAA Div. II All-American wrestler with stout takedown defense. If the majority of the bout ends up being contested on the feet, “Jacare” has shown a better ability to put together combinations than his opponent. Brunson has solid power in his hands and can mix in the occasional head kick, but he will often get sloppy when baited into exchanges. Brunson’s bread-and-butter is his wrestling, as he can use an explosive shot or powerful slams to get the fight to the floor. Once there, the 28-year-old needs to improve on staying busy so as to avoid referee standups.
Souza’s top control is suffocating, but he will have a difficult time planting a wrestler of Brunson’s caliber on his back. However, his judo base gives him more ways to catch his foe off-guard with tosses, trips and throws as they tie-up against the fence.
The Pick: If his gas tank holds up, Brunson is talented enough to stalemate Souza in the grappling exchanges. His unrefined standup will prove to be his undoing, as the Brazilian racks up points by moving in and out and landing combinations to earn a decision.
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