Two middleweights from different promotions will battle it out for a special occasion this Saturday night (Jan. 12, 2013) as former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo Souza takes on 13 fight UFC veteran Ed Herman at Strikeforce in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Souza lost his title to Luke Rockhold in 2011, but has bounced back with two straight finishes over lesser competition, taking out Bristol Marunde and Derek Brunson, the latter being the first knockout of his career. He recently signed a five fight deal with Zuffa and is hoping to enter the UFC with some serious momentum.
Ed Herman returned from a horrific knee injury with three straight impressive finishes before getting his momentum halted by Jake Shields in his last fight. The decision loss would be overturned after Shields tested positive for a banned substance, resulting in a no contest. Needing a fight, he stepped in for the injured Lorenz Larkin to officially become the first (and only) UFC fighter to transfer to Strikeforce to compete.
Will Souza continue to roll? Can Herman force the former champion to enter the UFC on a one-fight losing streak? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 16-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 6-1 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 last year. He followed up by scoring the first knockout of his career, destroying Derek Brunson in less than a minute with a perfect right hook.
How he gets it done: The former champion should have an advantage on paper in nearly every category for this fight. Souza is a world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and he's a freak athlete.
Souza'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. Expect to see Souza push the pace against Herman, take control of the cage center and stalk him down.
If he can close the distance, putting Herman on his back and taking him out of his comfort zone would likely be the easiest method of breaking the veteran. 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. Herman was controlled by Shields in his last fight, even if it doesn't count. Jacare could definitely repeat that success.
Record: 20-7 (1 no contest) overall, 7-5 (1 no contest) in the UFC
How he got here: Ed Herman worked the local Pacific northwest circuit before back-to-back victories over Nick Thompson and former UFC champion Dave Menne earned him an invite to The Ultimate Fighter season three. Herman made it to the finals where he would lose a gritty decision to Kendall Grove in a fight that impressed Dana White so much that he awarded both men a "six figure" UFC contract.
Since being awarded the contract, "Short Fuse" had been a mid-level middleweight, defeating all the guys he was supposed to beat while losing to the Demian Maias and Alan Belchers of the world. He was injured badly against Aaron Simpson, but fought on anyways before utterly destroying his knee in the second round.
Herman considered retiring after re-aggravating the injury in training but he stayed the course and returned to action after 21 months away, smashing Tim Credeur in just 40 seconds and then submitting Aussie veteran Kyle Noke with a heel hook in the first round just two months later.
After several months off, "Short Fuse" returned and weathered the storm against Clifford Starks, eventually securing a second round stoppage to keep his momentum rolling. He had his Cinderella story cut short by Jake Shields, but a post-fight drug test failure gave him a second chance to keep his streak alive.
How he gets it done: Herman has been a new man since making his return from injury. His stand-up has been crisp and his submissions have been very active and violent.
Early on, expect to see the Colorado based scrapper test his stand-up skills. He's been sitting on his punches much better and throwing with significantly stronger technique and power lately, so he'll definitely have the edge in that department. Souza is going to be confident in his striking considering he's coming off his first knockout, so Herman could have a big opening here if he's overaggressive.
Expect Herman to use his wrestling defensively at first, trying to keep this fight standing so he can continue to work his strikes either in the pocket or the clinch. If Souza takes him down, Herman will be extremely careful. Souza will be privy to whatever he attempts so he'll have to work extremely hard to get back to his feet without surrendering an opening for a submission.
"Short Fuse" is going to be outgunned in this fight, but it will be interesting to see what gameplan he's devised to help make up for not possessing Souza's technical skills.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the fact that Souza, a former world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, knocked his opponent senseless in his last bout for the first time in his career. Sometimes when a fighter scores a brilliant knockout like that, they get obsessed with repeating history and just head hunt for several fights afterward.
If Souza just tries to knock Herman's head off in this fight, he could be setting himself up for a big fall as "Short Fuse" is well-rounded and equally powerful with his punches. If Souza isn't careful with his striking efforts, he could wind up staring at the ceiling.