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In early 2006 Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza was coming off one of the most dominating runs in the history of competitive grappling. At the end of 2005, Jacare was a World Champion in and out of the gi, had defeated Roger Gracie and in that year was the pound-for-pound greatest submission grappler in the world.
Have reached the top of one competitive field Jacare looked to another, mixed martial arts. The Brazilian was no stranger to the fight game; he already had two pro fights on his record in the Jungle Fights promotion. Jacare’s first fight had been against seasoned Chute Boxe veteran Jorge Patino. It was a stiff test for a MMA rookie, at the time Patino had a 14-5-1 record and had fought for a UFC title.
Jacare found early success with his boxing, hurting Patino with punches and soon it was Patino, not the Brazilian Jiu Jitu ace, shooting for takedowns. But late in the first it was two wild right hands from Patino that found the chin and sent Jacare tumbling to the mat. Jacare’s first MMA fight went down as a TKO loss.
For Jacare’s second fight, he was scheduled to fight fellow MMA newcomer Victor Babkir. This time Jacare shot for an immediately, quickly worked to mount and made Babkir tap to strikes in under a minute.
In 2006, almost two years to the day after his win over Victor Babkir Jacare returned to MMA. This time instead of just dabbling in the sport, the Brazilian entered the ring this time with the intention of becoming a champion. Facing him was the young but experienced Russian Alexander Shlmenko, who at the age of 22 already had amassed a 22-3 record in European MMA promotions.
Jacare easily dispatched the young Russian, and make Shlmenko look helpless on the ground.
Jacare would fight twice more in 2006 and the fights went very similar to the Shlmenko fight. Souza made quick work of Russian Alexey Prokofiev with a triangle choke from mount and Haim Gozali. In late 2006, Jacare took part in a submission only grappling event called ‘X-Mission’ and there he faced U.S. wrestler and MMA legend Randy Couture.
Jacare was on his back and on the attack for much of the match, but was unable to submit the larger Couture. The match was declared a draw and Randy left very impressed with the young Brazilian. He invited Souza to come train at his gym, Xtereme Couture. Jacare was forced to decline due to management reasons, but Couture would stay in touch with the Brazilian.
In 2007, Jacare would notch three more quick submission victories in Brazil. Meanwhile in Japan, events were in motion following the collapse of the Japanese mega-promotion Pride FC. Bought out by Zuffa and the UFC, the office staff of Pride was completely laid off. Much of the brain trust of Pride left to join the Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), the parent company behind K-1 Kickboxing and formed a new promotion: Dream. And to help introduce Dream to MMA fans, FEG wanted to use one of Pride’s most popular features; the Grand Prix.
Dream put together two tournaments, at lightweight and middleweight and Jacare Souza was invited to part of the 14-man field at middleweight. This was the biggest stage Jacare had ever been offered, a chance to be seen by the hardcore base of MMA fans.
Jacare’s management issues were finally resolved and to prepare for this opportunity, the Brazilian traveled to the United States and began training at Extreme Couture.
(Jacare at Xtreme Couture)
This time at Xtreme Couture gave Jacare to further develop his skill set. Souza was a natural athlete, and already had some skill in striking but in Las Vegas he was able to evolve his MMA game. He stayed with fellow Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Robert Drysdale while in Nevada, and at the gym Jacare focused on this boxing, wrestling and conditioning.
In April of 2008, Jacare had his opening match of the tournament at Dream 2. His opponent was a Team Alphamale making his pro debut Ian Murphy. Jacare showed a much more aggressive attack, using ground and pound much more effectively to create openings than in previous fights. His training at Xtreme Couture paid dividends as Souza dominated the American wrestler.
In the next round Jacare was faced with the outlandish American Jason "Mayhem" Miller, who had defeated Japanese pro wrestler Kastuyori Shibata in the first round. When they met at Dream 4, Souza was extremely aggressive, blitzing Mayhem the moment the opening bell rung. Jacare dominated the match positionally, taking mount and the back seemingly at will at times and attempting several submissions. While Mayhem proved himself an able grappler and fended off Jacare’s submissions the fight was clearly Jacare’s.
And with that victory the Brazilian had punched his ticket to the Middleweight GP Finals at Dream 6 in September of 2008. At this card Souza would fight Zelg Galesic in the semi-final and the winner would go on to face the winner of the other semi-final that same night.
Jacare won his semi-final match in fairly typical fashion, an aggressive start that lead to a quick submission. The other side of the bracket featured two fighting Dutchman, the stoic Gegard Mousasi and the fearsome striker Melvin Manheof. And it would be the well-rounded game of Mousasi that carried the day and propelled the young man into the finals to face Jacare.
The result was a dream match of Middleweight blue chip prospects for the right to be the first Dream Middleweight champion. Mousasi, while younger that Souza, had much more MMA experience than the Brazilian having fought consistently since 2003. That said in the early moments of the fight it was Jacare who used his superior grappling to take command of the fight, but then a moment of over aggressiveness cost him the fight, the tournament and the title.
Despite his failure to win the Dream title, Jacare’s victories did earn him a great deal of attention. When Anderson Silva was signed to fight Nova Uniao BJJ ace Thales Leites, the UFC champ invited Souza to his training camp to help him prepare for his next defense. Together with Andre Galvao, Jacare helped train the most dangerous middleweight fighter on the planet.
Jacare meshed so well with the Nogueira fighters that he left Xtreme Couture to train full time with Team Nogueira. Jacare signed a rematch with Gegard Mousasi for April 2009 but Mousasi decided to move out of Middleweight and the Brazilian was re-matched against Mayhem Miller. Their fight lasted just over two minutes and was called a No Contest after a cut occurred from an illegal kick.
Souza then took time away from MMA and accepted an ADCC super fight against his former teammate and roommate Robert Drysdale. Jacare defeated Drysdale on points.
When Jacare returned MMA it was with the quickly growing American promotion Strikeforce. In his North American debut, the Brazilian was paired with a salty veteran of both MMA and grappling in Matt Lindland. The two had met before in ADCCs, where Jacare won via armbar and Lindland was looking to avenge the loss.
After Jacare defeated Lindland easily and was then paired with Joey Villasenor. While Jacare struggled at times in this match and slowed down badly down the stretch, he showed much improved boxing and had his hand raised at the end of the night.
On top of the Strikeforce Middleweight division, Welterweight Champion Jake Shields had moved up to 185 lbs and took the title after a narrow win over Mayhem Miller. Then at the end of 2009, former Pride Champion and UFC superstar, Dan Henderson fresh off his KO victory over Michael Bisping at UFC 100 left the Zuffa owned promotion and moved to Strikeforce. Henderson was handed an immediate Middleweight title shot and many expected him to steamroll over the smaller Shields. But Shields survived Henderson’s right hand and won a one-sided match and then left to the UFC.
With a vacant title Strikefroce attempted to set up a Middleweight tournament and invited Jacare to take part, and the Brazilian accepted. The tournament idea never came to reality, and Souza was paired with the only other fighter who had accepted to take part; Tim Kennedy.At Strikeforce: Houston Jacare soundly out boxed Kennedy over the course of five rounds and claimed his first major title in MMA.
Jacare then faced MMA veteran Robbie Lawler in his first title defense.
Jacare is now set for his second defense against Luke Rockhold. With the merger of Strikeforce and the UFC looming and Anderson Silva in the twilight of his career there is a window for Jacare Souza to climb atop the sport of MMA the same way he did in grappling.
"Ronaldo Souza Jacare | BJJ Heroes." BJJ Heroes: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Souza, Ronaldo. Personal interview. 1 May 2008. Translation Roberto Pedreira & Yoko Kondo March 2010
"Jacare Training at Xtreme Couture." Xtreme Couture MMA.
"Dream 4 Play-by-Play." Sherdog.com: UFC, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) News, Results, Fighting.
"Ronaldo Souza - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.