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Loaded shows like UFC 244 and UFC 245 come at the cost of cards like this one. The timing of fight announcements suggested UFC Fight Night 164 on Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was a thrown-together offering. That comes through in some of the top matches: Jan Blachowicz was as good a choice as any to welcome Ronaldo Souza to 205 pounds, but Mauricio Rua and Charles Oliveira get some surprising opponents from further down the card. On the plus side, despite the lack of any one relevant hook, the fights themselves look fun on paper. Somehow, there is not another UFC card for three weeks after this one, so hopefully this fall season goes out with a bang.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Blachowicz vs. Jacare” preview:
Light Heavyweights#6 LHW | Jan Blachowicz (24-8) vs. #8 MW | Ronaldo Souza (26-7)
ODDS: Blachowicz (-200), Souza (+170)
Once again, old middleweights do not retire; they just become light heavyweights, as Souza becomes the latest 185-pound standout to try and ply his trade up a weight class. Despite being one of the best middleweights in the world for the better part of the last decade, Souza never made his way to a title fight after coming to the UFC from Strikeforce. There was always something gumming up the works at the top of the division, which always somehow left “Jacare” second or third in line. Since a controversial 2015 loss to Yoel Romero that easily could have gone Souza’s way, it has been a case of one step forward, then one step back for the human alligator. Victories over Derek Brunson and Chris Weidman reaffirmed Souza as a top middleweight who was outlasting his peers, but losses to Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum and Jack Hermansson kept leaving him one more victory short of a long-awaited title shot. The Hermansson loss was particularly damaging to Souza’s title hopes. Beyond taking Souza out of the title picture, it was a one-sided decision and the first sign that his slowing down may finally hurt his competitiveness. At 39 years old, Souza does not have much time to waste, but it is still good to see him move up to 205 pounds at the first sign of trouble rather than as a last resort, even if Blachowicz is a tough first ask.
Poland’s Blachowicz has enjoyed an impressive career renaissance, given that he was clearly on the UFC’s cut line just two years ago. Blachowicz made his UFC debut in 2014 with a quick knockout of Ilir Latifi and looked prepped to become an immediate contender. Instead, he wound up dropping four out of his next five fights. The tough part was that Blachowicz often showed improvement -- he gave Alexander Gustafsson an impressive amount of trouble early in their fight -- but no matter what approach the Pole took, he found himself flagging and eventually gassed by the end of the bout. A 2017 win over Devin Clark stopped the bleeding, but it was not until Blachowicz’s next fight against Jared Cannonier that his game suddenly clicked, mostly on the back of one of the best jabs in the division. Blachowicz was suddenly rejuvenated by sticking to fundamentals, and outside of a burst of violence from Thiago Santos that finished their fight, he has not looked back. A July win over Luke Rockhold looked like it might put Blachowicz next in line for a shot at Jon Jones, but instead, he finds himself in a familiar position, trying to turn away the latest top middleweight to storm his division.
The good news for Souza is that unlike his peers -- most notably Weidman and Rockhold -- his chin appears to be still intact, as 2018 saw him survive back-to-back wars. While the light heavyweight division is improving, Souza’s skills and veteran wiles should be enough to keep him as a clear Top 10 fighter in his new weight class. However, getting to the top of the division is another story, and Blachowicz has shown enough to put him in that tier. Souza’s one-shot power striking could be dangerous, but he has slowed down recently to a point where Blachowicz should manage to outbox him, particularly considering the Pole’s reach advantage. While the grappling department is where it gets more interesting, Blachowicz should have enough to get by there. He is underrated on the mat, and while Rockhold managed to clinch and neutralize Blachowicz before getting knocked out, the considerably smaller Souza might have some more issues pulling that off. This is a fight that Souza would have easily won two years ago, but at the very least, the Brazilian should be able to survive rather than get sparked. The pick is for Blachowicz to take a workmanlike decision.
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