Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contenders Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum collided last night (May 12, 2018) at UFC 224 from inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Jacare” returned from a bad loss, surgery, and long layoff a few months back to remind the world that he’s both a top contender and complete badass. Back in the win column, Souza once again was on the hunt for a title shot, an opportunity potentially earned by turning away the former Welterweight. Although Gastelum has a fairly recent loss to Chris Weidman on his record, a brutal knockout of Michael Bisping and injuries to Weidman created a path to the title. Souza stood in the middle of that path, and Gastelum needed another clean knockout win to advance.
Souza took a bad shot to open the fight, using it to drive into a clinch. Gastelum resisted, but he soon found himself jammed into the fence by the Brazilian and absorbed some knees. Souza dropped into a single leg takedown, jumped on a leg lock, and finished the transition in top position.
It was slick work from the submission master.
“Jacare” landed in side control, but he quickly advanced into mount. Gastelum regained half guard nicely, but he could not prevent the Brazilian from retaking a dominant position. Souza patiently picked his shots from the mount, waiting from Gastelum to scramble and find a moment to latch onto a submission. Souza’s moment nearly materialized with a minute remaining, as Souza jumped onto an armbar. He gave up bottom position but had a tight grip on the arm. Ultimately though, Gastelum was able to escape the submission at the bell.
Souza’s grappling dominance was on display in the opening five minutes.
The second round opened in wild fashion, with both fighters landing pretty heavily blows. Gastelum seemed the fresher man, but Souza’s heavy counter blows and snap kick were landing well. That all changed when a heavy left hand from Gastelum sent his opponent to the mat hard, but he was hesitant to pursue the knockout on the mat.
Back on their feet, Gastelum’s in-and-out movement allowed him to land well, but he ate a ton of heavy hooks as well. Both men were fatigued from the opening ten minutes, which meant defense fell by the wayside.
It was a violent round, but Gastelum’s knockdown likely evened the scorecards.
Souza pressured into his foe to start the third, which saw the athletes exchanges clean power shots to the jaw. Under Souza’s ceaseless pressure, Gastelum’s volume dropped a bit, which saw Souza take control for a couple minutes. He even scored a takedown, but Gastelum was able to scramble up so quickly that it hardly mattered.
The final two minutes of the bout were extremely close. Gastelum held a very slight volume edge, but Souza landed the hardest punches. There was no clear winner of the round, leading to a very tense reading of the scorecards.
The result was a split-decision awarded to Kelvin Gastelum.
First and foremost, Gastelum’s chin is absolutely ridiculous. Souza landed some brutal punches in the second and third round, yet Gastelum walked through them like they didn’t matter. Equally absurd is Gastelum’s piston-like cross, which once again found a home on his opponent’s chin and sent him to the mat.
It didn’t produce a finish, but it probably won him the fight.
Gastelum also showcased his championship mentality in this win. Gastelum was tired as hell too, but he still kept to his strategy and landed combinations deep into the fight. Plus, it’s easy to accept a takedown when fatigued, but Gastelum worked his ass off to stop the shot or bounce back up.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 winner has likely earned a title shot.
Souza lost this bout — well, he very arguably won the decision, but still — because he managed his energy poorly. Let me be the first to say that I love Souza’s creative takedown entries that incorporate submissions and guard pulls, so that’s not what I’m going to critique. However, he took way too many diving shots, and those sap a fighter of energy.
It was particularly bad in the third round, the deciding round of the fight. Souza won plenty of stand up exchanges, but he kept digging himself deeper in the hole by diving on bad takedowns. They were unlikely to land, only serving to sap Souza’s energy when it would’ve been better spent swinging at Gastelum’s chin.
Sadly, this loss likely seals Souza’s fate of never fighting for a UFC title. Souza had a number of years where he was arguably the best Middleweight on Earth, but the perfect route to the title never materialized for the Brazilian.
Last night, Kelvin Gastelum earned a huge victory in a close fight. Is Gastelum a future champion?
For complete UFC 224: “Nunes vs. Pennington” results and play-by-play, click HERE!