After a brief hiccup against Yoel Romero this past December, Ronaldo Souza appears to have clear sailing toward a middleweight title shot following his first-round finish of Vitor Belfort in the UFC 198 co-headliner on Saturday night.
“Jacare” was in complete control from the outset, as he grounded his opponent and opened up a cut on the bridge of Belfort’s nose in the early going. “The Phenom” would eventually return to his feet, but rather than trade with his countryman, he elected to pull guard instead. That proved to be a serious miscalculation, and Souza capitalized by advancing to full mount and pounding out his adversary for a stoppage 4:38 into the opening frame.
“That was the plan, to totally dominate Belfort,” Souza told Fox Sports 1. “I was quite surprised because he was a little bit slow. I could see his every movement, so I was a little bit surprised by that.”
Souza has won nine of his last 10 fights, with his only setback being the contentious split-decision defeat to Romero at UFC 194. It’s a resume that certainly puts him at the center of any title discussion. First, Luke Rockhold will defend the 185-pound belt in a rematch against Chris Weidman on June 4 in Los Angeles. Souza doesn’t have much of a preference between the two; he just knows what he feels is rightfully his.
“My focus is not on any specific athlete. My focus is on the belt,” he said at the post-fight press conference. “I want the winner of that fight. I deserve to fight the winner of that fight.”
Souza has faced Rockhold before, losing a five-round verdict in a title bout to the American Kickboxing Academy product under the Strikeforce banner in September 2011. The grappling ace remains adamant that the championship hardware, not revenge, is his primary goal. The opponent is secondary. Health could be a great concern: “Jacare” mentioned that he may have injured his right knee against Belfort, although he did not give specifics regarding the nature of the ailment.
With UFC 199 still a few weeks away and his future very much uncertain until its headliner concludes, Souza is left to bask in the glow of a signature triumph in his homeland.
“For me it was special. Special because I got a great victory against a great opponent,” he said. “I came to win and I was able to impose my game. I got a win that was spectacular and for me, it was historic.”