In the lone championship bout of the evening, BJJ phenom Ronaldo Souza will defend the middleweight title against Luke Rockhold at the Grand Prix: Barnett vs. Kharitonov extravaganza on Saturday night.
The appeal of the match up is a tad lacking because Rockhold hasn't enjoyed much exposure. All six of his Strikeforce fights were on Challengers cards or prelims. Additionally, he's been absent since February of 2010 nursing injuries, so the American Kickboxing Academy product hasn't seen live action in over a year and a half.
The missing sizzle is unfortunate because, style-wise, Rockhold poses a genuine threat.
He's a lanky middleweight at 6'3" with a sturdy combination of wrestling and BJJ. He holds a brown belt under Dave Camarillo's Guerrila Jiu Jitsu program and is billed on the Strikeforce website as a blue and purple belt world champion. He has one loss on his record and seven stoppages (1 TKO, 6 subs), all in the first round. He's yet to fight longer than five minutes. Rockhold's biggest win is a rear-naked choke on Jesse Taylor at Strikeforce Challengers 4 in 2009.
Along with fellow card member Roger Gracie, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is one of the best pure grapplers to enter the sport.
After walking into one of Vale Tudo legend Jorge Patino's punches in his MMA debut, Souza has cut a swathe through the middleweight division by winning twelve of fourteen fights. In consecutive DREAM appearances, Souza had a No Contest bout with Jason Miller and got caught with a perfectly placed up-kick from Gegard Mousasi.
Registering his last four contests under the Strikeforce banner, Jacare has rolled through Matt Lindland and Robbie Lawler via submission and demonstrated improved stand up in decisions wins over Joey Villasenor and Tim Kennedy.
Of all the BJJ greats making the switch to MMA, Jacare has excelled in enhancing his boxing. He has tremendous natural instincts to the arts of striking and full contact fighting, and his god-given quickness and athleticism has made him much more than a one-dimensional threat.
Read on for an overview of the match up.
Out of all the razor-thin fights on this card, Rockhold, pegged somewhere around +300 on the betting lines, seems to be the only underdog getting absolutely no love.
Don't get me wrong -- there's not many middleweights who should be favored to beat Jacare, but Rockhold might pull out some surprises.
His gangly frame complements his improving striking skills well. He has a long reach and his power and form show progress, as he demonstrates to the left versus Paul Bradley in his first TKO. Rockhold had his right hook sighted in early and employed a nice range of different strikes to put him away.
Becoming more comfortable on the feet coupled with his dual-pronged grappling background makes him a legit threat in all areas.
Considering Jacare's nearly unequaled BJJ craftsmanship, the question will be whether Rockhold can keep his head above water.
Jacare has similarly enhanced stand up but doesn't really pack a lot of punching power.
His overall movement and hand speed are his best assets, and he's not a bad wrestler himself.
Once on the canvas, Jacare's clearly on another level.
Even compared to other top flight grapplers, Jacare seems to get twice as far along in half the time. Advances and attacks that normally require a specific set up and certain sequence of events are executed in single movements.
It's worth noting that Jason Miller and Joey Villasenor -- both of whom have clocked many years on the mat -- were able to fend him off and hold their own.
While I do think Rockhold might be able to do the same, I don't think he'll be able to simultaneously mount enough offense to win. Jacare is the type of opponent who forces you to focus on defending. His pace is frenetic and, while I think Rockhold's a unique triple-threat with a lot of horsepower in a lot of areas, I don't expect him to keep up.
My Prediction: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza by decision
Rockhold vs. Bradley gif via Caposa
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com