Following his last win over Francis Carmont that put him up to No. 4 in the official UFC middleweight rankings, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was looking for a title fight or a bout against top-ranked contender Vitor Belfort.
His stance was so strong in fact that his manager made a statement to UFC Tonight in May that the former Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion was done fighting lower-ranked contenders altogether.
Fast forward four months later and Souza is set to fight in the main event of this weekend’s UFC Fight Night on FOX Sports 1 card from Connecticut against Gegard Mousasi, who happens to be ranked No. 7 in the world. As Jacare tells it, he was never all that concerned about only gunning for the fighters ahead of him in the rankings or demanding a title shot.
Actually, Jacare is very understanding as to why he’s fighting Mousasi and not competiting for the title this time around. Of course his opinion will likely change with a win on Friday.
I’ve never denied a fight. They called me and said I was going to get my first main event against (Gegard) Mousasi and I was really happy. I knew that this fight would happen sooner or later
— Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza
"I’ve never denied a fight," Souza told FOX Sports. "They called me and said I was going to get my first main event against Mousasi and I was really happy. I knew that this fight would happen sooner or later because we were on the top of the division and we would have to fight.
"There’s no hurry for me to fight for the belt. This is just my fourth fight inside the UFC."
His upcoming bout versus Mousasi may pit him against a fighter below him in the top 10, but Souza sees this as much as a chance at redemption, as a shot to stay relevant in the middleweight title hunt.
In 2008 while fighting in Japan, Souza fought Mousasi in the finals of the DREAM middleweight grand prix tournament. The fight started well for Souza, as he landed a takedown almost immediately and began working from inside his opponent’s guard to ply his formidable grappling game. Unfortunately, Souza postured up during a scramble, and Mousasi threw a vicious up kick where his heel landed flush against the jaw, knocking Souza out cold. The fight was over in less than three minutes, and when Souza woke up, he had no clue what had just happened.
Now, six years later, Souza is ready to erase that loss from his record.
"I remember that I felt very good in that fight," Souza said. "I was in a position that I like a lot, being a bull on the ground. I felt so comfortable in that position and Mousasi made that move with the kick and after that I was more alert on that move. I hope it won’t happen again."
Now, one thing Souza wants to make perfectly clear about this rematch with Mousasi is the fact that his desire to win has nothing to do with a personal vendetta or grudge held over from their first fight. In reality, Souza and Mousasi became friends while fighting in Japan together, and the day before that fight in 2008, the Brazilian helped his opponent cut weight as he dropped down to the middleweight limit.
Souza and Mousasi remained in touch during their time in Strikeforce and the same can be said to this day, even though they are about to fight each other on Friday night in the UFC. In fact, Souza would even offer to help Mousasi cut weight again this week because that’s what friends do to help each other.
"In Japan, I helped him to cut weight, and after that I fought Mousasi on the same day," Souza said. "That’s part of the sport. If he needs help this fight cutting weight, I will help him again, no problem. We are friends out of the Octagon and we fight inside the Octagon. That’s part of the sport. A few months ago, Mousasi was here in Brazil and we had lunch together. We’re friends and that’s just part of the sport."
In fact, I don’t know the UFC’s plans. I cannot say that but, looking at the UFC rankings, I’ll be next.
— Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
When the cage door closes, friendship will go out the window — for at least 15 minutes. Souza wants to beat Mousasi to avenging the loss from 2008 and get closer to his next target — the winner of the upcoming bout between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort in December.
While the UFC hasn’t officially told him he’ll earn a title shot with a win, Souza doesn’t see any other option if he beats Mousasi. With what would be five wins in a row and an undefeated record in the UFC, there would just be nobody with a more deserving resume.
"In fact, I don’t know the UFC’s plans," Souza said. "I cannot say that, but looking at the UFC rankings, I’ll be next."