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Windows only remain open for so long, even for the most accomplished athletes.
Seemingly on the backside of his remarkable career, Ronaldo Souza will try to put a stop to a three-fight losing streak when he confronts Andre Muniz in the featured UFC 262 prelim on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston. “Jacare,” now 41, has not posted a victory in nearly three years. The former Strikeforce champion last appeared at UFC 256, where he succumbed to first-round punches from Kevin Holland on Dec. 12.
As Souza prepares for his undercard clash with Muniz, a look at five of the moments that have come to define the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt:
1. Sudden Impact
Gegard Mousasi short circuited Souza with an upkick to capture the inaugural Dream middleweight championship in the first round of their Dream 6 main event on Sept. 23, 2008 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. “Jacare” met his end 2:15 into Round 1, as Mousasi completed his run through the Dream middleweight grand prix. After a tense first 45 seconds, Souza swooped in for a takedown, settled in side control and applied his ground-and-pound. The two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist then tried to reposition himself from a standing position and crashed back into Mousasi’s guard, only to be met on the way down by a devastating upkick. Out went the lights.
2. Vacancy Filled
Souza laid claim to the vacant Strikeforce middleweight championship with a contentious unanimous decision over Tim Kennedy on Aug. 21, 2010 at the Toyota Center in Houston. Kennedy was statistically superior to the Brazilian—he outstruck “Jacare” in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds while accounting for the only two completed takedowns of the fight—but failed to capture the judges’ imagination. Unable to draw Kennedy into a ground battle, Souza leaned instead on his evolving standup skills. He cut Kennedy above the left eye with a crisp combination early in the third round, turned the match into something of a slog and kept the American off-balance just enough to walk away with a decision and his first major mixed martial arts title.
3. Power Shift
Luke Rockhold entered an entirely new dimension in his MMA career and did so at Souza’s expense. Rockhold put together a scintillating performance, as he scrambled out of trouble on the mat and battered “Jacare” with a variety of punches and kicks to capture the Strikeforce middleweight crown with a unanimous decision on Sept. 10, 2011 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The American Kickboxing Academy standout swept the scorecards in the Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov” co-feature: 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47. Rockhold weathered a handful of takedowns and broke free from the Brazilian’s notorious grip on the ground, as he repeatedly returned to his feet and went back to outstriking the champion. The lead left hand was his primary weapon, though he mixed in other strikes with beautiful timing and precision. Unable to keep Rockhold on his back, Souza largely abandoned the takedown and clinch game late in the fight, and though he wobbled the Californian with two overhand rights, he was woefully outgunned on the feet.
4. Broadened Horizon
“Jacare” dazzled in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, as he rendered “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Chris Camozzi unconscious with an arm-triangle choke in the first round of their UFC on FX 8 co-headliner on May 18, 2013 at Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. The lights went out on Camozzi just 3:37 into Round 1. After a brief exchange on the feet, Souza struck for a trip takedown and brought the Alameda, California, native into his world. Elbows and punches softened Camozzi, who tried to defend against the Brazilian’s otherworldly grappling skills. Souza ultimately moved to mount, transitioned immediately to the arm-triangle choke and waited for it to overtake his game but outmatched counterpart.
5. Alarming Decline
Souza’s time as a viable title contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight division may have reached its tipping point in the UFC Fight Night 150 main event on April 27, 2019 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. There, the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist played the role of unwitting steppingstone in a unanimous decision defeat to Jack Hermansson. All three cageside judges scored it for Hermansson: 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47. A short-notice substitution for Yoel Romero, “The Joker” outstruck Souza by surprisingly wide margins—256-120 in total strikes, 148-90 in significant strikes—and more than held his own on the ground with the grappling savant, as he recorded three takedowns and accounted for the only guard pass and submission attempt of the 25-minute encounter.
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