Leading into the Vitor Belfort vs. Luke Rockhold headliner, Chris Camozzi will welcome Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza to the Octagon in the co-main event of tonight's UFC on FX 8 show from Santa Catarina, Brazil.
In MMA, when we speak in terms of "the best Jiu-Jitsu ever," there are two classes: those who've convincingly established their prowess against elite competition -- such as Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Demian Maia and Shinya Aoki -- and those who've loaded up their fireplace mantle with trophies in pure grappling competition and crossed over to MMA but have yet to achieve the same level of prestige in the cage. Examples of fighters in the latter category are Roger Gracie, Vinny Magalhaes, Leonardo Santos and a fella that most know simply as "Jacare," meaning alligator or crocodile in Portugese.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (17-3) and Roger Gracie are the most widely respected and ridiculously decorated sport Jiu-Jitsu players in MMA today. But even beyond that lustrous reputation, Jacare is particularly special as, from the day he first set foot in the ring/cage, it was obvious that he had unparalleled potential as a BJJ-to-MMA crossover. Whereas the standard BJJ phenom is initially -- or permanently -- plagued by an awkward stance, clunky striking tendencies and a lack of experience with takedowns, Jacare is a rare exception.
The 33-year-old Brazilian took to MMA like a fish to water, exhibiting an eery semblance of comfort and confidence in the striking and wrestling departments. Jacare showed a surprising grasp of fundamentals right out of the gate in subtle aspects like staying on balance in a good striking stance, flicking out a jab, circling away from his opponent's power hand, having a sense of tempo and timing, transitioning from striking to clinching or grappling, and tailoring his Jiu-Jitsu mastery in a gi to MMA's unfriendly no-gi environment.
What I feel really sets Jacare apart from other decorated sport grapplers in MMA is his natural athleticism and the fact that he just seems like a natural born fighter. Jiu-Jitsu is typically a smooth and silky art, so the acclimation to MMA's rugged brutality can be a shock to the system. In plain terms, BJJ standouts are not used to getting punched in the face while working their specialty, and the experience can be anything from significantly distracting to persuasive enough to hang up the gloves and stick with competitive grappling.
We knew Jacare was uniquely suited to MMA because, when the time came to see how he reacted to eating strikes whilst employing his grappling, he was the one throwing and landing just as many strikes as his adversary; when we were ready to gauge his striking as either ghastly or potentially workable, he conducted himself better than any other BJJ crossover on the feet and set a new standard for adaptation. And Jacare was able to impose his submission wizardry more often and effectively than most BJJ aficionados on account of his black belt in Judo and admirable wrestling instincts.
This unparalleled birth in MMA quickly flowered into securing the DREAM middleweight title and, soon after, the Strikeforce middleweight championship. The stage is now set for a trial on the ultimate proving ground, where a hard-nosed and durable challenge awaits him.
Chris Camozzi (19-5) is a guy most expected to fade out after a few turns in the Octagon. He first appeared on TUF 11 and battled through a feisty Victor O'Donnell in the first episode's elimination match, but was sent home anyway with a broken jaw. Camozzi does nothing flashy or outrageously memorable, but his 7-2 clip in the UFC speaks for itself and commands respect.
The college rugby player is a tough as nails southpaw with ever-improving striking, hefty size and strength for a 185er and a physically imposing force in the cage. He's the type of guy who makes nothing easy for his opponent: he's difficult to take down or move around in general, he's as strong as an ox, his striking isn't world class but he's gangly and hits hard, and Camozzi is just an iron-willed scrapper overall.
Jacare is no slouch on the feet but Camozzi will be willing to tangle with him anywhere but on the mat, leaving his footwork, movement and takedown defense as pivotal elements. One advantage of Jacare's lack of a traditional wrestling pedigree is that almost all of his takedown attempts consist of lightning-fast bursts into clinch range rather than springing for an all-or-nothing takedown from outside. This characteristic allows for an ongoing onslaught of range-shrinking attacks instead of the intermittent charges and lulls of a typical collegiate wrestler.
What I'm trying to say is that Jacare constantly threatens to dart his way into contact range with a nonstop pulse of frenzied offense rather than diving for takedowns from a distance and then resetting and repeating the cycle.
I'm of the opinion that Camozzi is strong and savvy enough to ward off Jacare's takedowns when his feet are planted and he sees the blitz coming. Though I'd consider Camozzi's footwork to be altogether average, he's a beast in the clinch and adept at lowering his level, getting a wide base and digging an underhook to prevent takedowns. Since Jacare will have his hands full in a head-to-head takedown war, his superior speed, quickness and use of angles along with how well he sets up his advancements with striking should dictate the efficacy of his clinch/takedown game.
Along with the cumulative combat sports audience, Camozzi will be well aware that his chances drastically diminish on the floor with Jacare but skyrocket when he's moving of his own accord out in open space. Therefore, I don't see how Camozzi will adopt anything but a movement-based sprawl and brawl game-plan: capitalizing on his length with straight punches to keep Jacare at bay, avoiding the cage corners at all costs, and being careful not to load up too much power on his punches so he has the balance to either scurry out of range or confront Jacare with sturdy clinch defense.
If Camozzi finds himself off his feet with Jacare attached, it'll be a matter of moments before the curtains fall. Jacare is that good of a grappler. While we generally envision stellar submissionists wheeling for exotic attacks from their guard, this breed is by far deadliest when they're on top, and you can bet the farm that Jacare will either latch a submission or dominate the remainder of the round if he can put Camozzi on his back.
Because of Camozzi's experience, 3" height advantage (6'3" vs. 6'0") and 4.5" reach advantage (75.5" vs. 71"), I'd consider him a live dog here. It might not be pretty but Camozzi is strong, wily and well suited to resist takedowns and force Jacare to win on the feet. That being said, Jacare's freakish strides with his striking, his superior quickness and frenetic pace should, at the very least, put him in control of the action by putting Camozzi in defense mode. The gap in their striking is much closer than the yawning chasm of Camozzi's grappling deficit, so, although I don't think it'll be easy, this should be Jacare's fight to win.
My Prediction: Ronaldo Jacare Souza by submission.