A former middleweight champion will be tested by one of the best prospects this Saturday night (August 18, 2012) as Ronaldo Souza takes on Derek Brunson in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman in San Diego, California.
"Jacare" got his fire back, handling Bristol Marunde on short notice earlier this year in Columbus in a bout he was originally scheduled to face Brunson. Now, he'll get another crack at the talented prospect and there's major potential for a title shot being on the line against Luke Rockhold.
Derek Brunson is steaming after a controversial loss on short notice against UFC veteran and former winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season three, Kendall Grove. The top prospect hailing from Greg Jackson's gym is searching for by far his most significant career victory on Saturday night.
Will Souza step up to the plate and make a case for another crack at the belt? Can Brunson rise to the occasion and cement his status in the division? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Ronaldo Souza
Record: 15-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 5-1 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce Semifinals), Gegard Mousasi (Dream 6)
How he got here: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza has always been an incredibly gifted athlete. He didn't begin training in judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu until he was 17 years old, but he was a natural. He quickly elevated his submission game to elite status, winning the World jiu-jitsu championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005 as well as taking the gold medal at the infamous Abu Dhabi Combat Club competition in 2005.
After losing his first professional fight in 2003, "Jacare" has only been defeated once in the eight years since, and that was to Gegard Mousasi, a man who would win a Strikeforce world championship in a higher weight class less than a year later.
After mixed results in Japan's Dream promotion, Souza made a big splash in Strikeforce, defeating former UFC middleweight title challenger Matt Lindland via first round submission in his promotional debut. After a decision victory over Joey Villasenor, "Jacare" was awarded a shot at Strikeforce's vacant middleweight title against Tim Kennedy.
The Brazilian surprisingly stood with Kennedy for five rounds, winning a decision. He would defend his belt against Robbie Lawler this past January in extremely exciting fashion which resulted in a third round rear naked choke victory.
Souza lost his title to Luke Rockhold in a surprising turn of events, but he stepped up and dominated Bristol Marunde in his comeback fight earlier this past year. Now, he's looking for an opportunity to reclaim glory.
How he gets it done: The former champion should have an advantage on paper in nearly every category for this fight. Souza is a former world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and he's a freak athlete.
He's developed his mixed martial arts game significantly and his run as Strikeforce middleweight champion was very impressive with victories over Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler. I expect to see Souza push the pace against Brunson, take control of the cage center and stalk him down.
If he can close the distance, putting Brunson on his back and taking him out of his comfort zone would likely be the easiest method of breaking the young prospect. If he can pass guard and ground and pound his way to mount, I can definitely see a victory via strikes on the ground or a submission.
Record: 9-1 overall, 3-0 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Lumumba Sayers (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Key Losses: Kendall Grove (ShoFight 20)
How he got here: Derek Brunson was a successful high school and collegiate wrestler, but he made a transition to mixed martial arts and submission grappling once his amateur athletic career was over. Training out of Renzo Gracie's gym, he competed on the east coast for his early career in MMA, stopping every one of his first six opponents inside the opening minutes of the first round.
This earned him a shot in Strikeforce, where he won his first career decision and followed it up with a war against Lumumba Sayers in which he eventually earned a late first round submission. Brunson utilized his wrestling to move to 3-0 in Strikeforce by grinding out a decision against Nate James but he experienced a pair of setbacks.
Brunson was pulled from the Columbus event earlier this year because he wore contact lenses during his fights and after laser corrective surgery, he fought outside of Strikeforce on short notice against UFC veteran Kendall Grove, losing a controversial decision.
Now, he's sticking with his original plan of taking on "Jacare" and hopes to take his game to the next level.
How he gets it done: Brunson needs to remain calm. This fight is huge for him, but he has to treat it like any other bout. He showed against Grove that he can hang with fighters more experienced than him, even if he got screwed in the decision at the end.
Brunson has some strong offensive wrestling, but I'd like to see how he handles standing and trading with Souza. As long as he doesn't overcommit to strikes, he might be able to match the former champion in terms of power. Souza isn't exactly a technician on the feet either, so he has a good opportunity to hold his own.
If he gets in trouble, the takedown is an emergency option, but it would likely be unwise to hang around on the ground with the former BJJ world champ for extended periods of time. There will likely only be a small window of opportunity for Brunson at this point in his career, but if he can see an opportunity, he absolutely had to take full advantage.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor here is the stakes. Souza could earn a title shot with a victory while Brunson is basically just trying to make a name for himself. Both men are fighting for completely different reasons and that's a big deal.
With Brunson not having nearly as much on the line, he has significantly less pressure to perform. If he can stay relaxed and just try to fight to the best of his ability, who knows, stranger things have happened. While there's a huge gap in terms of technical skill, Brunson did hold his own against Grove so you can't completely count him out.
Bottom Line: This fight could be very entertaining or it could be a complete snoozer. Brunson has some power in his fists as does Souza, but Brunson does not have the skills to be entertaining on the ground against an extremely accomplished grappler like "Jacare." If this fight goes to the ground, Brunson is going to have to grind it to a halt just to stay alive while Souza will be trying to eat him alive.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!