Grappling legend Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will look to succeed where former foe Luke Rockhold failed this Saturday (Nov. 16, 2019) when he steps up from middleweight to challenge top light heavyweight contender Jan Blachowicz in the main event of UFC’s latest show on ESPN+.
Sao Paulo, Brazil will host plenty of other mixed martial arts (MMA) action beforehand, though, including a clash between former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and submission ace Paul Craig.
Want a comprehensive preview and predictions for the UFC Sao Paulo “Prelims” card? Right here and here. Betting guide? Extrapolate here. We also have a breakdown of the remaining UFC Sao Paulo main card right here.
Let’s get to it.
205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz vs. Ronaldo Souza
Record: 24-8 | Age: 36 | Betting line: -210
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 9 SUB, 9 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 6 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 78” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 496 of 986 (50%) | Takedown attempts: 12 of 25 (48%)
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Knockout win over Luke Rockhold
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Record: 26-7 (1 NC) | Age: 39 | Betting line: +175
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 14 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 72” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 322 of 605 (53%) | Takedown attempts: 13 of 44 (30%)
Current Ranking: No. 8 (Middleweight) | Last fight: Decision loss to Jack Hermansson
It really is hair-pullingly agonizing how close Jacare came to a UFC title shot; he had arguments for beating both Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum, who went on to unsuccessfully challenge for gold shortly after their respective fights. Now 39 and reeling from a loss to Jack Hermansson, he’s making one final run 20 pounds north.
I don’t think it’ll go well for him.
While his grappling technique is virtually unmatched in the Octagon, Souza’s explosiveness and physical strength have historically been key to his success, and both appear to be waning. Though his power remains potent, he’s found diminishing returns on his takedowns, relying more and more on stalking and hurling heavy right hands against higher-tier opposition. Unless the weight cut was truly debilitating, he’ll find similar difficulties at 205 pounds, compounded by the proportionately lessened chance of a one-punch finish.
Not good burdens to have against Blachowicz, who’s authored one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent memory. The Pole was a fairly hyped prospect when he joined the UFC and initially lived up to his promise with a gut-churning body kick knockout of Ilir Latifi in his debut. Unfortunately, a combination of low output, poor takedown defense, and atrocious cardio held him to just one victory in his next five fights.
Now he’s on a 5-1 surge, the only loss to a guy in Thiago Santos who gave Jon Jones a run for his money on one leg.
Even putting aside the momentum differential, Blachowicz just looks all wrong for Souza. Both his defensive wrestling and gas tank have improved tremendously, to the point where he threw 219 strikes against Jimi Manuwa in their rematch and completely shut down Luke Rockhold’s takedown attack last July before knocking him into oblivion. Souza will almost assuredly be the first of the two to gas, and between Blachowicz’s rock-solid chin and half-foot reach advantage, “Jacare” is mighty unlikely to land the one-hitter-quitter he’ll need to turn things around.
Of course, it’s anyone’s fight for the first three minutes or so; there are very few men, irrespective of size, who can get back up after “Jacare” puts them on their backs. Even with Blachowicz’s historically strong submission defense, which has kept him from tapping for the last 12 years, a Souza takedown would probably spell doom for him. It’s just hard to have faith in Souza’s ability to get that takedown at this stage in his career and against an opponent of this size and skill. Expect a competitive start before Blachowicz’s jab and kick onslaught take over.
Prediction: Blachowicz by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Mauricio Rua vs. Paul Craig
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Record: 26-11 | Age: 37 | Betting line: -280
Wins: 21 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 5 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 728 of 1396 (52%) | Takedown attempts: 21 of 56 (43%)
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: TKO win over Tyson Pedro
Paul “Bearjew” Craig
Record: 12-4 | Age: 31 | Betting line: +240
Wins: 1 KO/TKO, 11 SUB, 0 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 115 of 251 (46%) | Takedown attempts: 3 of 36 (8%)
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Submission win over Vinicius Moreira
I’d have preferred that “Shogun” retired about, say, five years ago, but at least they’re putting him up against a submission specialist this time instead of someone who can further demolish the ruins of Rua’s once-mighty chin.
Craig’s also, you know, someone Rua can actually reliably beat. Always welcome.
“Bearjew” could best be described as a poor attempt at min-maxing. He parlayed semi-functional striking, nonexistent wrestling, and a nasty submission game into considerable pre-UFC success, but is just 4-4 in the Octagon, relying on heroic comebacks to claim two of those victories. Three of those four losses came by brutal knockout; his is a style that will occasionally garner a post-fight bonus but is equally likely to get him finished in similarly decisive fashion.
Despite his decline, Rua still has the grappling chops to dictate where the fight takes place and hits more than hard enough to spark the likes of Craig, who relies more on aggression than any particular technical aptitude on the feet. Craig will almost certainly be forced into his usual plan B of pulling guard, and while Chael Sonnen’s guillotine proved that “Shogun’s” black belt isn’t insurmountable, the Scot will be hard-pressed to tap Rua off of his back.
To make matters even more difficult for Craig, Rua is one of the nastiest ground-and-pounders in the history of the sport. Sure, we haven’t really seen that part of his game since he blew up Forrest Griffin in their rematch eight years back, the fact that Jimmy Crute found success scything through Craig’s guard suggests that Rua could potentially get to a dominant position and start dropping bombs.
A Craig submission absolutely would not surprise me; Rua’s had plenty of lapses in the past and he’s a shell of his former self. The far likelier outcome, though, sees Rua shrug off his takedowns, beat him up on the feet, and pound him out when Craig pulls him into top position.
Prediction: Rua via first-round technical knockout
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