Luke Rockhold recovered from getting rocked early in the fight and imposed his standup game on Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza for five rounds and won the Strikeforce middleweight title via unanimous decision. The scores were 50-45 (which is a dubious scorecard at best), and 48-47 twice. Rockhold neutralized Jacare's takedowns and striking, landing dozens of kicks and big shots. The fight was extremely close though, with Souza having a case for winning the first, second, and fifth rounds.
Rockhold led out with a leg kick and was the busier fighter early, walking Jacare down. Jacare went for a takedown that got stuffed, but he responded with a big right hand that seemed to stagger Rockhold. Souza charged forward but caught air. He quickly grabbed a hold of Rockhold though, and eventually grinded him down to the ground. Rockhold did a good job of staying in a sitting position, but it led to him catching at least a dozen right hands from Jacare. Rockhold popped up briefly, but got taken back down again. Rockhold got back up again though, and Jacare just grinded him against the cage and threw a few knees until they finally separated. Rockhold threw a variety of kicks for the next 45 seconds while Jacare looked for a counter right hand. Rockhold with an awesome switch kick and an equally awesome spinning kick, and Jacare decided the standup wasn't so fun anymore and shot for the takedown. There was nothing there though, and the round ended with Luke appearing to have some momentum.
Rockhold opened the second with a spinning back kick that connected, and a few head kicks that didn't. Luke landed with two straight lefts, but Jacare rocked him with a straight right counter. Somehow Rockhold managed to stay on his feet though. Souza strafed him with an elbow against the cage, and they went back to the center. More headkicks from Rockhold had Jacare retreating a bit. Rockhold showed the more effective striking for the first four minutes of the round, but Souza was the one landing the power strikes. The fighters spent at least a minute against the cage, reversing each other multiple times and landing short knees. The last 45 seconds were familiar, with Luke throwing kicks and Jacare looking to counter.
The third round started a little slower than the first two, but looked similar to the rounds in terms of striking. Rockhold with a veritable cornucopia of kicks, and Jacare responded. Jacare threw more kicks of his own early though. Rockhold kicked Jacare low with 3:40 to go, and Jacare took a fair amount of time to recover, well over a minute. When action resumed, Jacare finally decided to duck some strikes and shoot, and got a quick trip takedown. Souza looked for a kimura, but Rockhold fought it off and got back to his feet. The whole last half of the round was contested on the feet, with Rockhold getting the best of it but not really hurting Souza at all. Rockhold definitely won the round though.
The fourth opened with way more hands and less kicks, and saw both fighters land hard shots. Rockhold was actually hanging his hands and taunting Jacare, which showed how much confidence he had at that point. Finally Jacare tied up Rockhold against the fence, but Luke quickly reversed. A failed takedown attempt led them back to the center, and Jacare finally showed some more initiative with his striking. Souza looked for a takedown again, but Rockhold fought it off with 90 seconds to go. Rockhold landed a huge body kick, then managed to fight off a Jacare takedown for the rest of the round. It looked to be even scoring-wise going into the final round.
Miletich had it 40-36 for Rockhold after 4 rounds, Shamrock had it 38-38. Rockhold was coming forward early in the fifth and final round, while Jacare responded with kicks and wild single counters. Jacare landed a solid body kick and turned the tables a bit, coming forward himself. Rockhold landed a solid body shot, but Jacare responded with a right and pushed him against the cage. A nice knee in the face from Souza led to a big takedown and Jacare working from side control. Rockhold got back up, but ate a right hand on the way up. It seemed to fire Rockhold up, who opened fire with some left hooks. Jacare responded with a front kick to the face. With one minute left, it still seemed like it could be anyone's fight. They both threw everything they had in the 25th minute of the fight, but neither could get the best of the other. Very, very good fight.
Souza had successfully defended his Strikeforce middleweight title once before his bout with Rockhold tonight. Rockhold was making his return to the cage after a variety of injuries sidelined him for close to 19 months.