One of the more interesting match-ups to take place on the Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg main card on Saturday night is the Strikeforce Middleweight championship title bout between challenger Robbie Lawler (20-6-0-1, 2-2 SF) and recently crowned champion Ronaldo Souza (13-2-0-1, 3-0 SF). "Jacare", the nickname that is justly attached to Souza's name, won the vacant middleweight title in August at Strikeforce: Miami in an equally intriguing showdown against Tim Kennedy. Kennedy's recent move to full-time status and the subsequent increase in the level of technique and skill he possessed created a much more challenging bout for Souza than most would have believed if it had happened a couple of years beforehand. Souza succeeded in putting away any doubts that he could overcome Kennedy's crisper technique however, edging out Kennedy over the course of five rounds.
Before the encounter, Souza dispatched of striker Joey Villasenor in dominant fashion at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery in May, and he choked out UFC veteran Matt Lindland inside the opening frame back in December of 2009 in an eye-opening performance. The three straight victories over recognizable names in combination with the performances against those opponents has lent some credence to the notion that "Jacare" belongs in the talk that he's a top five fighter in the middleweight division.
The notion that Lawler will prove that idea is a bit far-fetched for me, but it will continue Souza's streak of bouts against ranked competition. Despite Lawler's .500 record in the promotion, his name has been synonymous with excitement for most of his career. His fan-friendly skill-set features devastating knockout power in his hands and solid takedown defense stemming from his wrestling ability. While he isn't impervious to damage on the feet or the submission, he has a knack for the dramatic, whether it be coming back from the brink of defeat or putting on a dominant performance in the striking department.
As clear as it is to most fans, I'll state the obvious. This bout is your classic striker vs. grappler showdown. Lawler has already stated in interviews that he intends to keep this fight on the feet. He isn't the type of fighter to trick opponents with pre-fight talk, and he almost never dabbles in the art of grappling for fear of being submitted. If he says he'll punch his way to victory, that's what he'll try to do.
The only question mark is in Souza's strategy in this fight. Conventional wisdom suggests he'll swiftly seek out a takedown early as he is a five-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion who has the added bonus of a powerful physique to aid him in both taking down opponents and cranking appendages. The only problem with that assumption is that we have to factor in the possibility of Lawler having the chance to stifle those attempts.
Lawler has talked recently about his training regiment involving UFC fighters C.B. Dolloway, Ryan Bader, and Aaron Simpson. Bader and Simpson's wrestling pedigree should help Lawler tighten up his defenses. If he succeeds in stuffing Souza's attempts, where does that leave the champion?
In a five-round fight, I have to go with Souza. Sure, there is a chance that Lawler unleashes a salvo of strikes that completely crushes Souza within the first two rounds of action, and there is also the chance that Souza's gas tank fades quickly due to his enormous physique and strategy of pressing Lawler for a takedown. In lieu of my monumental failure in picking Mike Brown over Rani Yahya, I'll turn the tables and go with the grappler. Power and technique over the one-dimensional strategy of Lawler. I'll take Jacare via submission.