The Film Room: Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza

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One of the most accomplished jiu-jitsu players of all-time on Saturday will step inside the Octagon for the 13th time, as Ronaldo Souza faces Jan Blachowicz in the UFC Fight Night 164 main event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. More than half of Souza’s Ultimate Fighting Championship appearances have resulted in post-fight performance bonuses, and a win over Blachowicz in his first outing at 205 pounds could thrust “Jacare” into contention in a top-heavy division.

Souza steps into the spotlight in this edition of The Film Room.

From a wrestler’s standpoint, Souza does not have the best takedowns, but his relentless pressure and mindset of never giving up have allowed him to get nearly every one of his opponents to the mat. When fatigued or hurt, he will often shoot for easy-to-defend takedowns from too far away. When fresh, he can back opponents to the cage with a flurry of right hands and shoot for a takedown against the fence. He also has some nice trips and throws from the clinch, but his go-to move is a simple double-leg against the cage. Something that would work well against Blachowicz: right hands into a double-leg against the cage. Blachowicz gets visibly flustered when forced to fight backward and generally just swings wild counterpunches. If Souza can back him to the cage with a few right hands, he will have an easy time ducking under one of Blachowicz’s sloppy counters to land a takedown.

Once on the ground, “Jacare” has some of the slickest guard passes and transitions in the sport. He generally looks to land in side control or half guard after takedowns and uses chest-on-chest pressure to pass to full mount or take the back. The most impressive aspect of his passing is how he uses feints and chains together passes to eventually get to his preferred position. Against a fellow exceptional grappler in Gegard Mousasi, he feinted a pass to half guard on one side before quickly flipping his hips and passing in the other direction. If you watch closely, you will notice that he goes through the same motions to pass into mount. If he ends up in full guard, he will either go chest-to-chest to pass to half guard or tripod up and swing his legs over into side control, similar to Demian Maia. Once he moves to side control, he will put pressure on the chest and post up on his feet to pass into mount, as he did against Chris Camozzi.

Once he gets to a favorable position, “Jacare” will aggressively look for submissions, but he can also surprise you and pull them off unexpectedly during transitions or sweep attempts from the opponent. Fourteen of his 25 wins have come by submission, with a simple arm-triangle serving as his favorite technique. Like his passes, if you watch closely, you can see “Jacare” going through the same motions to set up the arm-triangle. Once he has passed to full mount, he will fake a back take and quickly lock up the kata gatame as the opponent turns to defend his back.

Souza does not end up on his back often, but when he does, it is usually because he was dropped with strikes and the opponent is looking for the finish. Against Yoel Romero, he was dropped with a beautiful spinning backfist, and the former Olympic silver medalist rushed in for the finish. Although it looked like Romero was about to get the TKO, you can see that “Jacare” took nearly every strike on the arms and only gets hit cleanly once.

In his most recent fight, “Jacare” was dominated on the ground and on the feet for all five rounds by Jack Hermansson. This could be a testament to the fighter into which Hermansson has developed, but it could also be a lifetime of combat sports finally catching up to Souza. It will be interesting to see how a move to 205 pounds will affect him. If the size difference proves too much to overcome, even an average grappler like Blachowicz may be able to handle him on the ground at this stage of his career.

“Jacare” is one of the greatest grapplers to ever step inside a cage, but that does not mean he is one-dimensional. He has a terrific overhand right, especially on the counter, and the power and speed behind it rank as some of the best in the division. Now that he is at light heavyweight, he should have even more of a speed advantage as the smaller fighter. Since his opponents are always concerned about his grappling, they will often get too aggressive on the feet looking for an early finish, only to be met with a quick counter overhand right. The only problem? “Jacare” does not have much on the feet other than the big right hand. This has been exploited by better strikers like Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, two men who used lots of movement and feints to draw out the right hand from “Jacare” so they could counter.

Souza’s chin has held up quite well during his career, his only knockout loss in the last decade having come to the aforementioned Whittaker. “Bobby Knuckles” managed to defend all of his takedowns and turned Souza’s overuse of the overhand right against him. He feinted his way into the pocket to draw out the overhand and then countered it. At this point in Souza’s career, it would be surprising to see him develop new techniques on the feet, but if he learned to stay patient and pull the trigger a bit less, he would have more success in standup exchanges. In this fight and at this age, his best path to victory remains on the ground. Advertisement
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