UFC 224 available for order on Amazon Prime (Prime Video PPV)
Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro will co-headline UFC 224 in a three-round battle that could decide the next No. 1 contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown.
After losing to current champion Robert Whittaker, Souza returned to the win column with a dominant performance against Derek Brunson in January. Gastelum, meanwhile, looked better than ever in his most recent appearance, as he knocked out former 185-pound titleholder Michael Bisping on Nov. 25.
With Whittaker set to defend his championship against Yoel Romero at UFC 225, the Souza-Gastelum confrontation takes on added importance. This installment of The Film Room puts their forthcoming clash under the microscope:
One Last Chance
At 38 years of age, this might be Souza’s last chance at UFC gold. Since entering the promotion in 2013, “Jacare” has always seemed to be one significant win away from a title shot, and he has yet to get over the hump. His only losses in the UFC have come against Whittaker and Romero, the two men fighting for the middleweight belt in June. “Jacare” knows better than anyone that a loss to Gastelum would likely end his pursuit of a title shot.
“Jacare” might be the most accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner ever to compete in the UFC. As an eight-time gold medalist at the Mundials and two-time gold medalist at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Souza does not have the best takedowns in mixed martial arts, but once he gets an opponent to the mat, a guard pass, ground-and-pound and a finish often follows.
Although known for his lethal submission skills, “Jacare” is not afraid to posture up and drown opponents with ground-and-pound. Just ask Vitor Belfort. Souza swarmed him with punches at UFC 198 on May 14, 2016 and was awarded a technical knockout against “The Phenom.”
Souza does have weaknesses. While he has more than enough power to finish a fight on the feet, his lack of technique has gotten him into trouble in the past. In his most recent defeat to Whittaker, he was clearly outmatched in the standup department, and when he could not land takedowns, he became desperate in striking exchanges and rushed forward with wild hooks that could be seen from a mile away.
Next Big Thing
Since entering the UFC by winning Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Gastelum has been thrown to the wolves and prevailed more often than not. He took reigning welterweight champion Tyron Woodley to a split decision at just 23 years old and has defeated some of the best fighters the 170- and 185-pound weight classes have to offer. Gastelum transitioned to mixed martial arts as a wrestler but has become one of the smartest and most patient strikers in the sport, thanks in large part to Kings MMA trainer Rafael Cordeiro.
Gastelum’s uses a meat-and-potatoes approach while standing, relying on speed, accuracy and clever angles to overwhelm opponents. Instead of throwing spinning back kicks, Superman punches and other exotic techniques, he prefers basic strikes and has perfected the setups for them. Gastelum backed Tim Kennedy to the cage and mixed it up to the head and body while never becoming so aggressive that he left himself open for counters. The placement of his lead foot is key when he throws his strikes, as he always takes an inside or outside angle to set up his hands.
A lightning-quick 1-2 has been Gastelum’s bread-and-butter combination. Since moving to middleweight, he has exploited a significant speed advantage against larger opponents. Even Belfort had issues with the Arizonan’s speed and could do nothing but cover up when Gastelum moved forward.
In his most recent fight with Bisping, Gastelum authored one of the nastiest knockouts of 2017 with his patented 1-2. Again, he placed his lead foot outside of Bisping’s to create a dominate angle for his left straight.
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