Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight contender Ronaldo Souza took on Kelvin Gastelum as a potential title fight audition over the weekend at UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro.
“Jacare” raced out of the blocks in the first round, tying up Gastelum with his world-class grappling and controlling for almost three minutes, attempting a submission as well as out-striking his opponent by a margin of 32 to 9. Gastelum survived the round and his coach Rafael Cordeiro pointed out that “Jacare” was exhausted.
At start of the second round, Souza looked noticeably tired and Gastelum started landing punches and enforcing his game plan. At the conclusion of the second round, referee Leon Roberts pointed Souza back towards his corner and turned just as Souza fell over from exhaustion quickly getting back to his feet.
The third round was a fairly even affair, with both fighters landing big shots. At the conclusion of the fight Gastelum was awarded the winner by split decision.
Souza admitted his legs were fatigued after the first round which hampered him for the rest of the fight.
“Nobody likes to lose,” Souza said through a translator at Saturday’s UFC 224 post-fight press conference. “I’m at home, I’m here in Brazil. The whole crowd was behind me. I’m very, very sad to lose. It’s disappointing to me to lose here at home in the way that I lost. I should’ve done better. I should’ve cut weight better. I felt my legs and that made it very complicated. It was my fault I lost, it happens. Kelvin had a good game plan, he was doing well in the fight, we had a great fight, but I lost. And I want everyone to know that I did everything I could to win. I really wanted to win this fight.
“I’m very upset by the loss, but anytime I go through any difficulties, or something puts my back against the wall, I do well. You can be sure that I’m going to come out of this one.”
Souza was asked to clarify the issues he faced with the weight cut and explained that his hotel for the fight didn’t have a sauna. Instead, “Jacare” tried to compensate by jumping rope much more than usual to help lose the weight, believing the amount of pre-fight exercise contributed to the reason his legs fatigued so quickly.
“I’m very healthy. I always cut weight pretty well, but this time I jumped rope a bit too much because there was no sauna in the hotel,” Souza said. “So I jumped too much rope and that’s why I think I felt my legs because of that, but that was it. There are things that happen. We had a great fight and that’s what matters.”
Souza showed respect to Gastelum for getting the victory; although he admitted he felt like he should’ve been the one to have their hand raised on the night.
“I was very confident,” Souza said. “I won the first round very well, very well. It could even be a 10-8 round. But in the second round, he knocked me down. I was able to recover, I won the third, so I thought that I’d won the fight. Even when it was a split decision, I thought that I would win the fight. But what can I do, it happens. Congratulations to Kelvin, we had a great fight and it’s good for the sport.”
Souza has now gone 3-3 in his last six matches; however, he is undeterred by his recent form and is still focused on capturing the middleweight belt. The 38 year-old will consult with his coaches to ensure he is better prepared for his next fight.
“About my future, I’m in the middleweight division, I’m gonna wait for the next fight, and I’m gonna do everything I can to win,” Souza said. “I’m going to see with my trainers what happened, what happened wrong, because I felt my legs a lot and I think that’s what complicated the fight.”