Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, a champion in two sports, is no stranger to adversity. Born into poverty, Souza's combination of work ethic, technical brilliance, and physical talent have made him one of the most formidable grapplers on the planet. T.P. Grant looks at Souza's career and his contribution to combat sports in this feature.
Born December 7, 1979 in Vila Velha, Brazil, Ronaldo Souza grew up in extreme poverty. His mental escape from the slums and gang violence around him was the most common among young men in Brazil; he played soccer.
During Souza's teenage years he was teetering on the brink of falling into the trap of gangs and drugs.Then on his 15th birthday Souza saw one of his closest friends gunned down right in front of him and Souza's mother moved the family to Manaus, in the Amazon, away from the dangers of the city. It was there Souza discovered Jiu-Jitsu.
Souza's older brother began training with Henrique Machado, a double black belt in Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. When Souza's brother got injured, Souza took his gi and went to class in his place. After his first class Souza declared he didn't like the martial art, saying it was too much 'man-hugging' for his taste. But after he received a sound beating in his first sparring match a competitive fire lit in Souza and "Jacare" was born.
Souza's nickname of "Jacare", which is the name of a species of crocodile that inhabits Brazil, was given to him for his aggressiveness and explosiveness on the mats. Jacare quickly learned both Jiu-Jitsu and Judo under Machado and dominated competition on the state level in Brazil . A rising star, Jacare was unable to compete at the international level because of his lack of funds for travel expenses.
Machado's academy, called "Associação Sensei de Lutas Esportivas" (Sensei Fighting Sports Association) or ASLE, was a stand-alone academy and didn't have the resources to send Souza around the world for competition. They sought any aide they could and as a result Jacare has competed under several different banners over the course of his career. But no matter the logo on the gi, it has always been Henrique Machado standing beside Jacare.
During his time in the lower belts, Jacare competed for several teams including Equipe III, Gracie Barra, and the short lived Team Master. In 2003, Jacare won gold at the Mundials in both his weight-class and the open-weight division as a brown belt.
In 2003, Jacare also entered into his first ADCCs. Jacare defeated Ryan Gracie and Matt Lindland, but had to settle for silver after being defeated by Saulo Ribeiro. Despite coming up just short of gold it was an impressive showing for a brown belt. But he would not remain a brown belt much longer as it was 2003 that Machado awarded Jacare black belts in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Souza then tried his hand at MMA, taking a fight at Jungle Fight 1 against Jorge "Macacao" Patino. Souza lost via KO, but his budding skills were obvious. Jacare did not attempt a single take-down, as the promoter had told him he wanted a standing match, and Jacare obliged him despite having almost no striking experience.
Jacare started 2004 well when defeated fellow God of War Braulio Estima to win the Pan Ams. Souza then entered the Mundials for the first time as a black belt. Jacare won his way to the finals of his weight-class, qualifying him for the Absolute division. Jacare entered in the Absolutes and also made it to the finals there.
There he faced Roger Gracie in what would become an all-time classic. Jacare would get up early on points, but then late in the match Roger would break Jacare's arm in an armbar. Jacare refused to tap and then held off Gracie for the remaining time to claim his first World title. Due to his broke arm Jacare was forced to withdraw from his weight-class and took silver.
In 2005, Souza traveled to Long Beach California to take part in that year's ADCC in both -88kg weightclass and absolutes. In his weight division Jacare made a clean sweep defeating David Belkheiden, Robert Suiski, Dennis Hallman and Demian Maia to claim gold. In the Absolutes, after defeating David Avellan and Alecandre Ferreira ‘Cacareco' Souza and then was faced with master technician Marcelo Garcia in the semi-finals.
Despite Jacare's victory over Garcia, he lost to Roger Gracie in the finals. Jacare and Roger would meet again the next year at the Mundials, and it was Jacare who was victorious, this time with limbs intact. It was at this point, having accomplished all his goals in grappling, that Jacare decided to make the move full time over to MMA.
In 2006, Jacare took a match with Russian Alexander Shlmenko, who at the age of 22 already had amassed a 22-3 record in European MMA promotions. Jacare won handily and would win twice more in 2006 at local Brazilian events. He then participated in in a submission only grappling event called ‘X-Mission' and there he faced U.S. wrestler and MMA legend Randy Couture. The match was a draw, but Couture was extremely impressed with the Brazilian.
Souza won three more Brazil-based matches in 2007 and in 2008 he was invited to take part in a 14-man Middleweight tournament in the Japanese based promotion Dream. To prepare Jacare traveled to the United States and began training with Couture.
This was a huge leap for Jacare into a much higher level of MMA competition. His first round in the Dream Middleweight tournament Jacare faced the debuting Ian Murphy from Team Alphamale. Jacare won a quick submission victory, and then defeated Jason "Mayhem" Miller by decision in the second round. In the semi-final Jacare faced London Shootfighter Zelg Galesic.
Souza was in the finals against another blue chip Middleweight prospect of the day, Gegard Mousasi. And while Jacare was doing very well 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. Mousasi landed a perfect up kick as Jacare dived in for a punch and knocked the Brazilian out cold.
While he did not claim the title, Souza showed off the fruits of his hard work with Couture. His MMA skill set was far more well well rounded than many had expected, his Judo had been complimented with explosive wrestling and his striking had improved by leaps and bounds. Jacare's victories did earn him a great deal of attention. When Anderson Silva was set to defend his UFC Middleweight title against 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.
Souza struck up a friendship with Silva and his teammates, left Xtreme Couture to train at X Gym in Brazil to train near his friends. Souza had a rematch with Miller that ended in a No Contest when Miller cut Souza with an illegal kick. Also in 2009, Souza returned to ADCCs for a Superfight with Robert Drysdale, a former teammate and roommate from Xtreme Couture.
Jacare was then paired Joey Villasenor and won a three round decision. It was at this point the Strikeforce middleweight division was throw into chaos, as Dan Henderson, former Pride Champion and UFC superstar, moved to Strikeforce. Henderson was handed an immediate Middleweight title shot against current champion Jake Shields. Many expected him to steamroll over the smaller Shields, but to the shock of many Shields survived an early Henderson right hand and won a one-sided match and then left to the UFC.
With a vacant title Strikeforce 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 out boxed Kennedy over the course of five rounds and claimed his first major title in MMA.
Jacare would defend his title against Robbie Lawler, but lose it to Luke Rockhold in a clear decision loss. Since then he has won two fights, as the situation in Strikeforce grew more uncertain with the Zuffa purchase and the promotion's impeding merger with the UFC.
Now Jacare is set to face Ed Herman in his last Strikeforce match and it seems certain he will go on to fight in the UFC. Regardless how he performs in the UFC he has already amassed one of the most successful MMA careers of a sport jiu jtisu cross over into MMA. A champion of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, No Gi Submission Grappling, MMA, and a true mastery of grappling, there can be no doubt that Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is a modern day God of War.