This Wednesday (Sept. 4, 2013), highly touted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight grapplers Yushin Okami and Ronaldo Souza will face off in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 28 from Jornalista Felipe Drumond Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Both No. 3-ranked Okami and No. 5-seeded Souza will look to inch closer to a 185-pound title shot in Brazil. It's going to be a hard-fought battle, as each fighter has the momentum of his respective recent win streak.
Okami defeated former Bellator Middleweight champion Hector Lombard via split decision at UFC on FUEL TV 8 his last time out, rounding out a three-fight win streak that also includes wins over Alan Belcher and Buddy Roberts. The victories have righted the ship for Okami, who was faced with fighting back from two consecutive technical knockout losses to former champion Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch.
Across the cage, "Jacare" Souza will await, anxious to prove his spot among the best the UFC has to offer at 185 pounds. Souza has only one UFC fight under his belt, a submission win over late replacement Chris Camozzi at UFC on FX 8 this May. But, he handily ruled over Strikeforce prior to the promotion's closing, obtaining its Middleweight title belt and defending it once against Robbie Lawler.
Although "Jacare" lost that belt to Luke Rockhold, he's looking to stake his claim at the most prestigious gold of them all by winning a UFC belt. A lofty rankings spot will await the winner, so emotions will be high for both fighters in front of "Jacare's" home crowd.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Yushin Okami vs. Ronaldo Souza:
Record: 29-7 overall, 13-4 UFC
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 134), Chael Sonnen (UFC 104), Tim Boetsch (UFC 144)
Keys to Victory: Okami's path to victory begins with avoiding the submissions of a world-class submission specialist in "Jacare." Even against one of the finest grapplers in all of MMA, Okami should be able to use his massive frame to power out of most potential holds. He's never once been submitted throughout his lengthy MMA career, so that fact may give him a ton of confidence if and when the fight hits the mat.
Okami just can't be too confident, or Souza could make it a short and painful night for the former title challenger.
On the feet, Okami will look to utilize his strikes to set up a takedown where he can smother Souza from dominating top control. Okami's wrestling base, coupled with his size and strength, usually make it a long night for most Middleweights in the UFC, even Brazilian Jiu-jitsu masters as proficient as Souza.
"Thunder's" experience will also come into play in a big way during this fight. A veteran of an incredible 17 trips to the Octagon, he'll have a big advantage over his opponent in this area, who has only one. True, the crowd will be on Souza's side, but that could actually put added pressure onto "Jacare's" shoulders. Okami's cool and calm demeanor will serve him well in hostile territory.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
Record: 18-3(1) overall, 1-0 UFC
Keys to Victory: It's not a big secret that "Jacare" will look to utilize the incredible Brazilian Jiu-jitsu skills that have won him multiple words title in both the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) and the World Jiu-jitsu Championships. He's arguably among the top three finest pure grapplers in the sport today, and while it's going to be tough to submit Okami, Souza will still try to do just that for his hometown crowd in Brazil.
If he gets taken down by Okami's excellent wrestling, it's really not as much of a burden as it would be for most fighters. Souza's extremely active and tricky bottom guard could lead to some impressive sweeps and transitions, which could score him points in the eyes of the judges.
This fight promises to be a technical war that could turn into a chess match once it hits the mat. However, Souza has also been showing rapidly improving striking as of late, evident by his impressive knockout of Derek Brunson in August 2012. While it's still got a long way to go to catch up with his submission game, his boxing could play the spoiler against Okami, who's more susceptible to being finished by strikes than he is by submissions.
"Jacare" has to use the crowd as an advantage, not as a hindrance. Putting too much pressure on himself could create problems against a technical grinder who has the Octagon experience of Okami. If "Jacare" can control his emotions and dictate the pace of the fight, a lofty ranking at Middleweight could be ripe for the taking.
Bottom Line From Belo Horizonte: The bottom line here is going to be how "Jacare" responds to the tension of a huge UFC fight with rankings implications on the line. He's looked nearly unbeatable as of late, but Okami is an experienced and proved competitor who's a noted step up in competition. Okami may look to pick Souza apart with his jab before looking for some takedowns. He most likely won't be afraid to go to the ground with Souza, because it will be extremely surprising if even a submission wizard like Souza can submit Okami.
But, stranger things could happen.
The crowd will be deafening in their cheers for Souza, who will have the weight of Brazil on his shoulders for this co-main event bout. An impressive win could go as far as netting him fast track to a UFC title shot, although he'll likely to have to prove himself against one more Top 5 opponent should he get past Okami.
If Okami pulls out another workmanlike win, that will mark four straight for the Japanese grinder. He'll be increasingly harder to deny a title shot with wins over top competition coming in so regularly. Problem is, he lost rather handily to Anderson Silva in their second meeting, so he'll have to hope Chris Weidman retains the title when he and Silva rematch in the main event of UFC 168 on Dec. 28, 2013, from Las Vegas.
Will "Jacare" make a case for a UFC Middleweight title shot, or will "Thunder" rumble over Souza just like he has so many opponents before? Give us your opinion in the comments below!