UFC on Fox 27 marked Ronaldo Souza’s 10th appearance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. During the Strikeforce merger in 2013, “Jacare” was seen as one of the more intriguing fighters to join the UFC roster. Souza has since put together what most consider a successful run inside the Octagon, even though he has yet to secure a middleweight title shot. Losses to Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker had many wondering whether or not that opportunity would ever come.
Souza faced Derek Brunson on Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he reaffirmed himself as one of the top contenders at 185 pounds. The two had squared off in Strikeforce in 2012 -- “Jacare” stopped Brunson in 41 seconds -- but their rematch carried far more weight. Once again Souza was a step ahead of Brunson, as he bounced a high kick off his head, sent him crashing to the canvas and finished him with punches in the first round.
It began with a feeling-out period, as “Jacare” seemed content to play off of his back foot. He kept his power hand cocked and sought opportunities to counter Brunson, who had knocked out Dan Kelly and Lyoto Machida in his two previous appearances. With just over a minute left in the first round, Souza slammed his right shin into the side of Brunson’s head. A cold and calculated “Jacare” dropped his hands, walked down the Wilmington, North Carolina, native and winged hooks on the unprotected Brunson, prompting the stoppage from referee Dan Miragliotta.
Leading into his co-main event with Dennis Bermudez, Andre Fili was looking to stop his maddening trend of alternating wins and losses in the UFC. He made it known that he needed to establish some momentum if he ever wanted to make real waves in the featherweight division. Fili’s hopes were realized, as he won a contentious split decision over “The Ultimate Fighter 14” finalist. Takedowns provided his path to victory: He executed four of them in the three-round battle.
It was a back-and-forth affair. Bermudez scored early and often with chopping leg kicks that compromised Fili’s movement. Fili answered from the outside behind a sizeable reach advantage, pairing his counterstriking with well-timed takedowns that seemed to weigh heavily on the judges. Afterward, Fili indicated he wanted to regroup and get back in the cage as soon as possible. On the other side, Bermudez was visibly downtrodden after his third consecutive loss in a fight many felt he won.
Meanwhile, Gregor Gillespie continued to assert himself as one of the top prospects in the lightweight division with a dominant technical knockout victory over Jordan Rinaldi. The four-time NCAA All-American landed an early takedown and quickly moved to a dominant position, transitioning from mount to back control. Gillespie ultimately pinned Rinaldi against the cage and teed off with hard shots for which the North Carolinian had no answer. The win moved Gillespie to 4-0 in the UFC and 11-0 overall.
Drew Dober and Frank Camacho took part in an exciting brawl that netted them $50,000 bonuses for “Fight of the Night.” Camacho struck first with his signature lead-leg trip takedown. However, the former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion could not keep Dober down. Dober was content to let the fight play out on the feet, and the further the battle went, the more apparent it became that he had a significant edge in the cardio department. Camacho appeared to be physically spent by the middle of the second round, as his counterpart cut loose with precise boxing and looked for a finish. Dober continued to exploit his standup advantages in the third round, where the Elevation Fight Team rep withstood another takedown and exited the cage with a unanimous decision ... Bobby Green and Erik Koch fought to a decision in the featured prelim. A former King of the Cage champion, Green weathered the Roufusport standout’s early assault to score from the outside and dominate in the clinch. He outperformed Koch in the grappling exchanges, as well, securing advantageous positions with key reversals in tight spots. Green was awarded a unanimous verdict after 15 minutes -- it was his first win since 2014 -- and set his sights on lightweight contenders Eddie Alvarez and Kevin Lee ... Blue-chip prospect Mirsad Bektic rebounded from his first career setback and returned from an 11-month layoff to finish Godofredo Castro in the first round. Bektic doubled over “Pepey” with a brutal straight right hand to the solar plexus, followed him to the mat and rained punches until referee Kevin MacDonald waved it off. In the aftermath, the 26-year-old praised his former coaches at American Top Team but credited his move to the Tristar Gym in Montreal for his return to form.