Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contenders Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Robert Whittaker will duel this Saturday (April 15, 2017) at UFC on FOX 24 inside Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Has Souza earned a title shot? Definitely. Will he ever receive one? Not if the powers that be ever have anything to say about it! Fresh off two first round stoppages that didn’t really need to happen, “Jacare” will attempt to earn another opposite a top young talent. In fairness to the matchmaking, Whittaker has definitely earned his chance to step up opposite a Top 5-ranked athlete. Fresh off his first main event slot, the Australian striker has won six straight at 185 pounds ... and looked damn good doing it.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Record: 23-5 (1)
Key Wins: Gegard Mousasi (UFC Fight Night 50), Yushin Okami (UFC Fight Night 28), Francis Carmont (UFC Fight Night 36), Tim Boetsch (UFC 208)
Key Losses: Yoel Romero (UFC 194), Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Having recently secured his 17th submission win, Souza is perhaps the sport’s premiere submission specialist. He’s also a powerful striker with some strong takedowns, aided by his formidable athleticism.
In this bout, the strategy for both men is clear but fraught with danger. In Souza’s case, he must methodically cut off the cage and drive his foe to the fence. If he’s able to pin Whittaker, his chances of scoring the takedown go up dramatically.
Once on top, Souza will be in complete control.
It all sounds simple. Unfortunately, Whittaker is an excellent striker who controls range well and will counter any impatient attempts to close the distance, much like he did opposite Derek Brunson. To avoid that fate, Souza needs to stay smart. Rather than follow Whittaker, it’s imperative that Souza side steps and blocks Whittaker from circling. At some point, Whittaker will stand his ground and fire — it’s his nature — which is Souza’s moment to change levels and go.
Key Wins: Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 101), Brad Tavares (UFC Fight Night 65), Uriah Hall (UFC 193), Rafael Natal (UFC 197)
Key Losses: Stephen Thompson (UFC 170), Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Whittaker is an expert striker, possessing a background in Karate and boxing. At Middleweight, his speed has proven to be a serious attribute, as Whittaker has been able to land more consistently due to his quickness.
Once again, it will be Whittaker’s speed and kickboxing skill opposite his opponent’s strength and grappling expertise.
For Whittaker, the obvious priority is to keep his back off the fence. To do so, it’s important that Whittaker earns Souza’s respect early, as Souza will simply try to bully him otherwise. Moving forward may increase the risk of a reactive shot, but it will at times be necessary to keep his foe honest. In addition to landing something hard early, Whittaker’s left hook could once again play a major factor. Souza has a habit of reaching with his right hand, which could provide the perfect opening for the left to slip through.
Bottom Line: This is a pivotal match up at 185 pounds.
There are three men at Middleweight who have earned a title shot: Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi, and the winner of this fight ... particularly in Souza’s case. If Souza wins again here, he becomes even harder to deny, even if Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping are holding up everything. On the other hand, a loss would be devastating for “Jacare.” Each of these extra fights he’s forced to take carry the same risk, as a single loss will eliminate much of the momentum that he’s built up.
Meanwhile, Whittaker has a chance to insert his name into the elite group at the top of the division. He’s not likely to earn a title shot with a win due to the divisional logjam, but he’s quite close and now established as a potential title contender moving forward. Alternatively, there’s not much to lose for Whittaker. It’s still pretty early in his career, so there will definitely be future chances for Whittaker to take this step.
At UFC on FOX 24, Ronaldo Souza and Robert Whittaker will compete to climb further up the Middleweight ladder. Which man will have his hand raised?