Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza has finished his last four opponents. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
MiddleweightsRonaldo “Jacare” Souza (18-3, 1-0 UFC) vs. Yushin Okami (29-7, 13-4 UFC)
The Matchup: Neutralize is the word that comes to mind when describing the skill set of Okami, a former 185-pound title challenger. He used his jab and takedowns to neutralize Hector Lombard at UFC on Fuel 8, ground-and-pound and positional dominance to neutralize the kickboxing and underrated submission game of Alan Belcher at UFC 155; and on it goes. While Okami’s style is not going to take away anyone’s breath, it takes a dynamic moment of aggression (Tim Boetsch’s third round at UFC 144) or a singular talent (Anderson Silva at UFC 134) to defeat the Japanese veteran.
Okami’s approach is conservative but effective. He makes judicious use of his jab to initiate the clinch, and from there, he grinds away, wearing down his foe against the cage before dragging his man to the canvas. Once there, Okami is not going to land furious bursts of ground-and-pound, but he is suffocating, staying busy enough with strikes to avoid standups while diligently working to pass guard. In short, “Thunder” is really good at making others look bad.
It takes a special kind of grappler to counter Okami’s wrestling, and as a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and 2005 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, Souza would appear to be that guy. The Brazilian gets many of his takedowns through trips and throws, but Okami is a powerful middleweight with a strong judo base to match his opponent’s, meaning it might not be so easy for “Jacare” to impose his will in the clinch.
However, the former Strikeforce titlist figures to have the advantage in terms of speed, power and athleticism, and it simply could be a matter of how he applies his improved striking in this instance. The southpaw Okami has improved his standup, as well, but his jab remains his primary weapon, especially against an adversary who is regarded as the best grappler in the division, if not in all of MMA. Souza would like nothing better than to achieve top position, where his ability to advance and transition to submissions is unmatched. Okami, meanwhile, would prefer to work from top position, as well, and he has yet to be submitted in 36 professional bouts.
Overall, Okami is a tough nut to crack, but he has been at his most vulnerable when opponents elect to dictate the action. Boetsch’s near-miraculous comeback is the most obvious example, but both Lombard and Belcher were able to have their moments late against Okami by attacking aggressively.
The Pick: Souza has good countering ability, but he needs to set the tone early in order to avoid allowing Okami to establish a rhythm and get an early lead on the scorecards. In a coin flip of a fight, Souza lands more significant combinations and wins enough of the grappling battles to take a narrow decision.
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