The night before UFC on Fox 24, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was dancing in his hotel room. Apparently. He had just signed a new eight-fight contract with the UFC and was getting ready to put the young, Australian up-start Robert Whittaker in his place the next day, finally earning himself that elusive title-shot. Or so it seemed. In reality, things did not go quite like ‘Jacare’ had planned; he got dominated by the Aussie and the fight was stopped in the second round. The bout has raised many questions for both Dana White and the UFC as well as ‘Jacare’ himself, but there are two that stand out: first of all, what happens next with the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend? He did after all sign a new contract with the UFC, but does this un-expected loss to ‘Bobby Knuckles’ mean he’ll never get a title shot?
The second question is whether or not the 37-year-old crocodile has seen his best octagon-fighting days.
From the point-of-view of a ‘Jacare’ fan, his last fight against Robert Whittaker is not one to leave you with happy memories. Not only did Souza lose a bout he was a clear favourite (and by most was expected) to win, he did so in a rather unflattering manner. ‘Jacare’ entered the ring in Kansas in his normal, chilled-out-reptile style and, sadly, that is also the style with which he lost the fight. The Brazilian did not look ready and prepared to fight Whittaker. When his takedown attempts were stuffed by a clearly prepared and confident Australian, ‘Jacare’ seemed to be completely out of ideas and inspiration. It was pretty obvious leading in to the fight that if ‘Jacare’ could take Whittaker down he would win the fight without any problem, a fact that should mean that if Whittaker managed to stop ‘Jacare’s’ takedowns (and one would assume he would work his butt off to achieve this) then Mr Souza would be in need of a back-up tactic. This backup was nowhere to be seen.
One can always argue that “of course there was a back-up plan, there always is, it just didn’t work” and that’s probably true, yet the fact remains that Ronaldo Souza was not capable of dealing with Robert Whittaker when he failed to get him to the ground and during this whole endeavour, Souza looked out of shape. This fight was not encouraging for the Brazilian. We know now that ‘Jacare’ sustained injuries that might keep him on the metaphorical bench for up till 6 months, but as if that wasn’t enough, ‘Jacare’ fought a fight against Robert Whittaker in which he looked slow, tired, heavy and one-dimensional. Does all of this, coupled with the fact that ‘Jacare’ is 37 and injured, mean that the time of the crocodile has come and gone?
Whilst ‘Jacare’s’ plan surely was to beat Whittaker and hopefully get to fight the winner of Bisping vs St. Pierre, it now looks as if his loss to ‘Bobby Knuckles’ has put an end to that dream, at least for the time being. ‘Jacare’ now finds himself behind Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold, Robert Whittaker, Gegard Mousasi and Chris Weidman with regards to a title shot against Michael Bisping, and considering the likely fact that whilst it remains unclear who might fight Yoel Romero next, the other four fighters will most likely square off against each other and it might be very difficult for ‘Jacare’ to break in to that fearsome foursome and again challenge for the belt. So where does the old, tired reptile go from here?
Before ‘Jacare’ goes anywhere, he will have to recover. That might not be the worst idea in the world. This latest loss (only ‘Jacare’s’ second in the UFC) came fairly un-expected and might have led to some doubt festering deep down in the mind of the aging predator, especially given the fact that he looked majorly out of sorts. ‘Jacare’ not appearing like his former, energetic self might to some be alarming, but it might also be explained by the fact that ‘Jacare’ was in quite a bit of pain during the fight against Whittaker and was in reality nowhere near his own best, at least that is what his doctors say. Some rest and time away from the octagon might be just what the doctor ordered. When he finally comes back, ‘Jacare’ can either settle for entertaining fights with big names for the sake of a decent pay-check and just forget about the UFC Middleweight title, or he can start over and hopefully find himself face-to-face with Bisping or whoever holds the belt a year or two down the line. In my mind, there is very little doubt about the fact that ‘Jacare’ might not be young, but 37 is after all not that old, not even in MMA terms. ‘Jacare’ is a 8 time BJJ World Championship winner, he is more decorated than the vast majority of his peers, but the one thing he has never held or even had the chance to obtain, is the UFC title belt. For Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, this is his last chance.
So, with the other five main contenders most likely engaged in fighting each other, who should ‘Jacare’ challenge next? The obvious answer might be Anderson Silva (currently ranked 7th in the Middleweight class), but this fight does not seem like something that will happen. A fight with Anderson might be considered a massive draw for the UFC and Dana White – it would also serve to bring the winner straight back in contention – sadly, the crocodile is injured for the next 6 months and the Spider is set to do battle in June. This is not a time when a lot is happening in the UFC’s Middleweight division – the only top-fifteen ranked fighters with scheduled fights in the next couple of months are Derek Brunson and Tim Boetsch which makes it a bit hard to predict ‘Jacare’s’ next fight (especially as it looks set to happen in 6-12 months from now) – but if one were to take a stab at who it might make sense for ‘Jacare’ to battle next, one easily ends up landing on the slightly predictable fact that it would be perfectly sensible for ‘Jacare’ to push for a fight with anyone ranked from 10-15 in the Middleweight division. This would entail the possibility of ‘Jacare’ v Belfort, Leites or Hall and a victory over either of these fighters would at least keep ‘Jacare’ in the running.
If ‘Jacare’ can recover and come back with a victory over Belfort (for the sake of argument), then this will not only be a bout that would force even the most sceptical UFC fan to keep his/her eyes open for what would be a clash between two living legends, it would also mean that ‘Jacare’ would be back in the same spot he was prior to his lost against Whittaker; namely one or two fights away from the big one. There is only one problem: it is quite likely that ‘Jacare’ will not return from injury until after Vitor Belfort has had his last fight in the UFC. ‘The Phenom’ is getting old and is hoping to have his last UFC fight this summer. This leaves ‘Jacare’ most likely having to go three rounds with the likes of Leites, Hall, Alvey, Kelly or maybe even a rematch with Tim Boetsch. Neither of these fights will garner the same amount of interest as would a head-to-head between Souza and Belfort, but a win against any of these contenders would fulfill what should be ‘Jacare’s’ only wish right now: to bring him back in to contention and once again leave him in a position to challenge Romero, Rockhold or Whittaker.