clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC Fight Night: Gegard Mousasi vs. Ronaldo Souza and the Toe to Toe Preview with Phil and David

New, comments

Gegard Mousasi takes on Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza in a rematch of their marginally disappointing first bout in Dream this weekend in Connecticut. Phil and David wonder out loud just how good this fight is.

Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Middleweight Ronaldo Souza vs. Gegard Mousasi

Were you disappointed with the first fight? I mean, is it ok to admit that statistically unlikely finishes are a let down on some level?

Phil: I find it hard to get mad at upkick knockouts. They just look so cool! One guy is about to smash the other from above, but then suddenly a leg pistons upwards and he crumples onto the floor. Mousasi's frantic blizzard of punches on Jacare's corpse was also a fantastic combination of bad-assery and unintentional comedy.

I do get what you mean though. It's rare that you get a match-up as compelling as Jacare and Mousasi, and it would have been nice to see how it played out over the long term. Praise the Just Bleed God though, because we now get a do-over, and both men are greatly improved on both the strategic and the technical levels. I am jazzed.

David: See, I get pissed at the MMA gods for stuff like that. It's science alright. If Mousasi is really better than Jacare then he needs to prove it on the feet. Not on the ground flailing his legs with Jacare in total control. Yes, I get that an upkick is thrown with precision and that talented fighters like Mousasi practice these with brutal efficiency, but damnit I want a real outcome!

So yea, I was totally let down by the outcome the first time. Plus this was the same event where Overeem and CroCop fought, which was another letdown. Slugfest for the ages? Nope. But it was a slaughter. After all, I'm pretty sure not a single spermatocyte survived the impact of Overeem's knee.

What do you think about where Mousasi projects to be? He seems on the cusp of contendership, and simultaneously on the cusp of gatekeeper status. I realize gatekeeper is a word with a ton of stigma attached to it, so perhaps I should ask...will Mousasi end up being the Kenny Florian of the MW division?

Phil: Perhaps, but I feel like Kenny may be the wrong type of gatekeeper for Mousasi- Kenny was the prototypical dude who maximized a fairly limited set of physical gifts with an understanding of strategy and technique which was ahead of his time. Mousasi, on the other hand, was always phenomenally talented. Almost to his own detriment, he was one of the rare fighters who simply "got" almost every area of the game. This made it difficult for him to show progress, partially because he kicked the crap out of almost everyone he fought, and partially because it's really hard to put together the disparate pieces of a puzzle which could comprise a frighteningly complete MMA game- offensive wrestling, striking, submissions, ground and pound. That he wandered the globe doing Gegard things and never really settled down with a decent camp only compounded this.

I do feel like he's genuinely been learning throughout his Strikeforce and UFC career, though. Against OSP and Latifi, he put on fairly disciplined, focused performances based around their weaknesses: offensive wrestling and distance control respectively. It was only against Machida that he faltered. There the Dragon beat him with a far more strategically layered performance, where Machida took the reins from him and refused to give them back. It'll be interesting to see if Mousasi (who has clearly learned basic gameplanning) learned some tactical nuance from Machida as well.

If he does lose to Souza, I think his closest analogue would probably be someone like Josh Thomson- someone who had all the pieces, but just struggled to put them together. I think Thomson also has a grasp of broad-brush strategy, but similarly sometimes fails to make the subtle advantages to take control of fights.

That said, I think it is far too soon to write everyone's favorite unflappable Armenian Dutchman off.

David: Excellent points, but I can't make you do all the work.

Thomson is a great comparison, but I really think injuries hampered Thomson more than anything. Mousasi is a strange fighter to really hyper-analyze. All the tools are there. It's just that the engineer who seems reluctant to assemble the pieces necessary for the...perfect...weapon (whatever happened to Jeff Speakman anyway?).

I think Mousasi's essential weakness is his lack of urgency. I talk about this all the time, but urgency is so critical in an MMA event. Some guys just get it. They know exactly when they need to put pressure and their opponent, or when to back off. Mousasi doesn't. He knows all the notes, and where the keys are located, but his rhythm is a little off. Good thing for him this is a five rounder, which means he'll have plenty of time to make up lost ground.

I feel like Jacare has always been the slightly better MW. He's had some very consistent, and very solid opposition from 2008 (when he got upkicked out of his metatarsals) onward. Will he justify his status against Mousasi and how?

Phil: Where Mousasi has been struggling to put all the bits of a multi-piece puzzle together, Jacare has been carefully building his from the ground up.

"I am good at BJJ, so I should work on my wrestling and explosiveness."
"I should use strikes which complement my wrestling."

He's shown laudable discipline in turning himself into a genuinely scary mixed martial artist. However, I am not necessarily sure that he wins this one, despite being a prohibitive favorite. As much as his game is potent, it is also somewhat limited- he basically explodes forward with either a takedown or a big right hand.

Mousasi has clearly been working on his takedown defense- contrast the fight where he gave up multiple takedowns to Keith Jardine with his absolute trucking of Mark Munoz. More than that, he clearly has a strategy ready for this kind of contest- when he fought Ilir Latifi he came out in what I like to call his Skeksis Stance (Look at its facial expression! It even smirks exactly like him!). Basically I think he's going to stand extremely low, maximizing both the distance covered by his long jab, and keeping his weight low and hips far back. I think Jacare will try to land the right around Mousasi's long, snaking jab and... and I'm just not that convinced that it will work. Skeksis Stance looks an awful lot like what Rory MacDonald used to beat Jake Ellenberger and Tyron Woodley, who came with similar basic approaches to Souza.

If he can neutralize both the big right and the takedown, then Mousasi can potentially open up a bit, in which case he is a much more fluid and diverse striker. As well as being more offensively varied, he takes punches better than Souza, and has a phenomenal chin. I'm not sure that I've ever seen him even rocked in a fight.

It doesn't entirely favor the Dreamcatcher though. Mousasi doesn't have the fastest footwork, preferring to use subtle shifts in head movement and spear opponents on the way in, and still tends to walk straight backwards when pressured. Jacare is extremely quick at covering distance and trapping his opponents against the cage. If he can drag Mousasi to the ground, his jiu jitsu advantage is even more pronounced than Mousasi's advantage on the feet. He's simply a devastating grappler in every phase of the game- position, submission, strikes. Mousasi has an excellent, aggressive guard and is phenomenal in scrambles, but his confidence on the mat may lead him straight into the jaws of the alligator.

In a 5-rounder, both guys have shown that they fade a little, but Jacare's work ethic is legend and I fully expect him to come as the better conditioned fighter, particularly in a hard, grueling grappling contest. If it's all tied up coming into the later rounds, Souza has a great chance to take over.

David: As impressed as I was with his destruction of Munoz, Munoz has done nothing but get quickly and embarrassingly destroyed against the elite lately.

I think you underestimate Jacare's improvements though. For a time he fell into that weird hyperspace that specialists learning striking fall into, where suddenly they look fairly competent, and then want to test that competence in all phases of the game. For the most part he's ditched that, although yes, his striking remains a little rudimentary for modern MMA.

One of the things that has never been automatic for grapplers, is how to "MMA grapple". I've always kind of vaguely hated the distinction, because sometimes it creates weird definitions for fighter traits. But there's still a transition, even for specialists. Some aspects of grappling are thrown out (de la riva guard?), or modified, and everything you've learned has to be unlearned in certain ways. I felt like Jacare has been steadily making that transition since his debut up until his last bout. He's more comfortable immersing himself in scrambles, and this looks just a little more fluid.

For example, if Mousasi gets stuck, as he did often, dealing with takedowns and scrambles he won't be able to create his own offensive and score mount like he did over and over and over against Munoz. Jacare has a much better understanding of the transition game in the context of MMA grappling. I feel like this bout will look a lot like the Lawal fight...just far less sloppy and erratic.

Phil's pick: In the end, I just find myself thinking that the old faithful approach based around the big right and the takedown just isn't enough to take you to a belt nowadays, no matter how explosive you are. Mousasi has ferocious finishing instincts, and if he starts to wear Souza down, expect him to try to take the Brazilian out. Gegard Mousasi by TKO, round 3.

David's pick: Ronaldo Souza by Decision.