One of UFC 194’s featured bouts is a fantastic middleweight contest between former Strikeforce Champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero. This is the UFC’s third attempt at booking this fight, as both attempts were previously derailed by injuries. Souza is currently on an eight-fight winning streak and recently submitted Chris Camozzi in April. Romero, meanwhile, is 6-0 in the UFC and is coming off the biggest win of his career, a third round knockout of former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida in June. The winner of this fight will almost certainly earn a title shot against the winner of the Chris Weidman versus Luke Rockhold middleweight title fight. Ronaldo Souza (22-3 (1 NC) MMA, 5-0 UFC, -150 favorite) There are not many middleweights on the UFC roster that are in a rush to call Joe Silva to ask for a fight against “Jacare”. The decorated middleweight is truly one of the scariest fighters on the UFC roster. Souza made his name in mixed martial arts while fighting for the Strikeforce promotion, where he eventually won their middleweight title. After a successful title defense against Robbie Lawler, Souza lost his belt to Luke Rockhold in a close five-round fight. The Brazilian has went on a tear since losing his title, as he has reeled off eight straight wins. Souza owns notable victories over Lawler, Tim Kennedy, Gegard Mousasi, and Yushin Okami. The 36-year old is one of the most decorated Brazilian jiu jitsu competitors that has ever entered the Octagon. Souza has won several world championships in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in a multitude of weight classes. “Jacare” has really improved his wrestling so he is able to utilize his amazing jiu jitsu against just about anyone. His reactive double-leg takedown is exceptional and he times it very well. He also has several serviceable trips and throws in the clinch. Souza’s opponent is in immediate danger once he gets them to the canvas. He is likely the best guard passer in the division, throws massive bombs from top position, and has a litany of submissions at his disposal. There are not many, if any, fighters in the division that will willingly engage Souza on the mat, he is that good. Despite coming up through the jiu-jitsu circuit, Souza has turned himself into a competent striker as well. He likes to hold the center of the cage and uses a lot of feints to set up his big right hand or left hook. Souza’s power and explosiveness has translated to his striking attack, which is not surprising when you see how quick and athletic he is. From a defensive standpoint, he is a tad hittable, though he has improved in that area in recent fights. Conditioning has been an issue a few times in the past for Souza, but he has made improvements in that area as well. Yoel Romero (10-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC, +130 underdog) Romero is one of the most athletic fighters that has ever graced the Octagon. The former Olympic Silver Medalist in freestyle wrestling came to the UFC about a year and a half after losing to Rafael Calvacante by knockout while competing for Strikeforce. The signing was kind of a surprise because he was on a long layoff and nobody really knew how good he really was. Well, it did not take long for UFC fans and pundits to find out exactly how talented Romero is. He absolutely starched Clifford Starks in his first UFC appearance, and has since followed that up with five more wins. Five of his six wins inside the Octagon have come by knockout. The Cuban owns notable victories over Lyoto Machida, Tim Kennedy, Derek Brunson, and Brad Tavares. As I mentioned, Romero won the silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Olympics. The Cuban has even defeated the great Cael Sanderson twice, which is an impressive feat for any wrestler. While he comes from a high-level wrestling background, he does not use it very much in his fights. Actually, he has had a hard time holding fighters down. Romero’s array of double-legs, single-legs, and trips and throws in the clinch are impressive and explosive, but he has not been able to pin his opponent’s shoulders to the mat and keep them grounded. For that reason we have not seen much of an offensive ground game from Romero. Defensively, he has actually been taken down several times in his fights with Derek Brunson and Ronny Markes. Brunson was even able to obtain full mount against him, which is not a good sign when facing Souza, who is light years ahead of Brunson on the ground. On the feet is where Romero really shines. His speed, agility, power, and explosiveness are unrivaled in the middleweight division. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Romero often lulls his opponent into a false sense of security with slow movements, then will explode in with powerful strikes. It is amazing how fast Romero can close the distance on his opponents. The Cuban likes to step forward with leg kicks, which he often follows up with a straight left or right hook. Romero’s best weapon is his powerful straight left hand, which he throws often and with precision. He also occasionally throws flying knees, which he hits at a high percentage. Once he smells blood, Romero is a vicious finisher that puts his victims away quickly. While he is not a high volume striker, he is still effective because of his power, accuracy, and ability to avoid getting hit clean. Romero’s main issue in some of his fights has been his cardio. He has slowed down in several fights, especially in fights where he was forced to work hard. Thoughts Like Aldo versus McGregor, this is a fight that has long been anticipated. As I mentioned, this is the third time the UFC has scheduled this fight. Souza pulled out the first time due to pneumonia and Romero pulled out the second time due to a knee injury. This is a battle between two dynamic and explosive athletes that are also vicious finishers. Romero obviously is the superior wrestler and is a pure knockout artist. Souza is the more well-rounded fighter that can end the bout in a variety of ways. I think Romero can win this fight by knockout, while I think Souza can win by knockout, submission, or decision. We have seen Romero get placed on his back before by lessor athletes than “Jacare”, and that leads me to believe Souza can do the same. Once the fight hits the ground, Romero will be in a world of trouble. I don’t think this fight will last long if Souza is able to get Romero to the mat and establish top position. Romero is extremely dangerous, so you cannot count him out by any means, but I think “Jacare” is the more likely winner. The Prediction: Ronaldo Souza defeats Yoel Romero by submission (arm-triangle choke, round 2)
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