Fans who tune in to UFC 224 on Saturday, May 12, might learn a few things. They might learn if UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes is ready to become one of the promotion’s next big stars. They might also learn the next top contender in the UFC’s middleweight division when Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza faces Kelvin Gastelum in the main event.
Souza has won three out of his last four fights and is coming off a first-round knockout of Derek Brunson. Gastelum seems to have found a home at 185 pounds after struggling to make weight at 170 pounds, and knocked out former UFC middleweight champion in his last fight. The winner of this fight should consider himself next in line for a shot at the UFC middleweight title.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Strengths: Souza is second-to-none when it comes to jiu-jitsu. Many consider him the best jiu-jitsu practitioner in the world, with the likes of Demian Maia, and it’s hard to argue that point. More than half of his 25 total victories have come via submission. So simply put, Jacare is probably the most dangerous fighter in all of MMA on the ground. Fighters should roll with him at their own risk.
Jacare is also frighteningly efficient in the cage. Like many, he wants to end the fight quickly. During his recent 8-fight win streak, five of those victories came in the first round. There is also no wasted motion or time with Jacare, as evidenced by his first-round knockout of a dangerous striker in Brunson earlier this year.
Weaknesses: Whereas it’s possible Gastelum might come up a bit short on the ground, Souza is only 5-2 in fights that were decided by a knockout or TKO, whether it was a victory or loss for him. Gastelum might fare best by keeping it standing with Souza and mixing it up, much like previously opponents like Yoel Romero have done against Souza. Romero defeated Souza in a closely-contested split decision at UFC 194 in 2015.
Souza has only lose five times in his 30-fight career, so on the surface it seems hard to find holes in his game. But Souza is also not a young man at 38 years of age, so you have to wonder if a younger, hungry fighter like Gastelum can catch Souza off guard and pull off the victory that would do wonders for his career.
Strengths: Besides the obvious age advantage that Gastelum has over Souza (Gastelum is 26 years old to Souza’s 38), he also has a nose for the finish. Souza is the more experienced fighter in terms of overall fights, but all four of Gastelum’s 14 total victories have come via finish, including seven knockouts and a devastating knockout of a former champion in Bisping last year.
Gastelum has outstruck and battered several of his opponents in his career, and he also boasts finishes of other well-known fighters like Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy, Nate Marquradt and Jake Ellenberger. Gastelum lands nearly four significant strikes per minute, so it’s obvious that he looks to finish his opponents and finish them quickly.
Weaknesses: Gastelum appears to have a new home at middleweight after insisting on previously competing at 170 pounds, despite winning The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight. He routinely struggled to make the welterweight weight limit, and it showed in his losses to Neil Magny and current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Fighting at a weight class that was clearly not suited for him showed a lack of maturity and foresight on Gastelum’s part – traits that would not serve him well in a fight with a veteran as savvy and dangerous as Belfort. He also has a submission loss on his resume to former middleweight champion Chris Weidman last year. Which is not something you want to hear when Gastelum is facing one of the best submission artists around in Souza.
Gastelum has a golden opportunity here. I think defeating a fighter the caliber of Souza in his native country catapults Gastelum to the head of the line in the middleweight division. If Gastelum can land that one hard shot, then he could easily finish Souza. However, Souza is still one of the most lethal fighters in the world, and has looked reborn in his last few fights. I think he gets Gastelum to the mat, locks in a submission and stakes his own claim to a middleweight title shot.
Winner: Souza by submission
Image Credit: Low Kick MMA