Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight veterans Ronaldo Souza and Vitor Belfort will square off this Saturday (May 14, 2016) at UFC 198 inside Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil.
Souza has had a tough break. After putting together a massive win streak that was undoubtedly enough to earn him a title shot, he came up short via a debatable split decision to Yoel Romero, who promptly failed a drug test. Speaking of failing drug tests, Belfort is back in the title mix! He may have looked rather flat in his title loss to Chris Weidman, but a victory over "Jacare" would undoubtedly put him in the mix of potential No. 1-ranked title contenders.
Particularly if Luke Rockhold retains his title.
Either way, let's take a look at the keys to victory for both athletes:
Record: 22-4 (1)
Key Wins: Gegard Mousasi (UFC Fight Night 50), Yushin Okami (UFC Fight Night 28), Francis Carmont (UFC Fight Night 36)
Key Losses: Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Souza is one of the finest Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters to ever compete in mixed martial arts (MMA), and the rest of his game has become high-level. Now an effective wrestler and knockout puncher as well, Souza is one of the very best Middleweight fighters in the world.
In this bout, Souza's entire key to victory relies on not getting knocked out in the opening round. At this point, it's clear that Belfort has essentially one round -- or as shown in the Weidman fight, one flurry -- to finish his opponent or things will go south for him.
With that in mind, Souza can patiently stalk his opponent and look for opportunities to clinch. Belfort has done a nice job avoiding the clinch and takedown lately, but he has a limited amount of time before he tires. At some point, he'll have to engage.
When that happens, Souza can change levels and look for his takedown. Once Souza is on top, his advantage is simply massive. Before long, Souza will secure a finish of some kind.
Key Wins: Luke Rockhold (UFC on FX 8), Michael Bisping (UFC on FX 7), Anthony Johnson (UFC 142)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC 187), Jon Jones (UFC 152), Anderson Silva (UFC 126)
Keys to Victory: Belfort is a brutal counter striker who somehow developed a horrifically powerful kicking game a decade deep into his professional career. He's one of the most brutal knockout artists ever, and he'll be looking to finish another opponent here.
Belfort's strategy is pretty clear here. From range, he needs to kick his opponent and make him uncomfortable. Souza is not a range striker, so he'll definitely feel the urge to close range before long.
That's when Belfort's violent counter punching skills can come into play.
For both men, patience should be a key. In Belfort's case, he shouldn't have trouble with his conditioning if he's just hanging around at range and occasionally kicking. When his opponent looks to change things up, that's Belfort's chance to score the knockout.
If, however, Belfort comes out too aggressive, he's playing into his opponent's hands. Similarly, Belfort can't afford to freak out and attempt to force a finish, or he'll gas like he did opposite Weidman.
He has to wait for his moment and capitalize.
Bottom Line: The winner is in great position to fight for the title.
Souza has already earned a title shot, but bad luck cost him dearly. With a win here, he should be the clear choice for the winner of Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman, seeing as Romero is suspended and should not receive a title shot coming off that layoff.
The potential payoff makes this bout incredibly risky. Belfort has slowed down, sure, but he's still a vicious knockout artist. If Souza ends up unconscious, he may end up never getting that title opportunity.
Belfort's position is certainly interesting. By knocking out Souza, he makes a decent case for himself challenging for the title, but only if Rockhold remains champion. No one is interested in a Weidman rematch, but the champion has been desperate to avenge his loss to "The Phenom" for some time.
All of that is meaningless with a loss though. If Belfort comes up short, his position in the division is unclear, as his only win since getting off testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) was over the now-fragile Dan Henderson.
At UFC 198, Ronaldo Souza and Vitor Belfort will attempt to earn a title shot. Which man will have his hand raised?