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UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis - Chris Weidman vs. Ronaldo Souza Toe-to-Toe Preview

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Weidman vs. Jacare for UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden, and everything you don’t about the unique toughness of middleweight.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Weidman vs. Ronaldo Souza co-headlines UFC 230 this November 3, 2018 at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

One sentence summary:

David: Still My Boy vs. Still In This

Phil: Crocodiles in the mist

Stats

Record: Chris Weidman 14-3 | Ronaldo Souza 25-6-1 NC

Odds: Chris Weidman -170 | Ronaldo Souza +160

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: Chris Weidman is like the People’s Reluctant Champ. Fans reverse Muldered him: they didn’t want to believe. How could this non-athletic grapple-wrestle-boxer, beat a great like Anderson Silva? By the time he removed all doubt, it was too late. A few knockouts later from seasoned strikers and the mythical Third Round Yoel, and I was shocked he got past Kelvin Gastelum at all. Maybe it helped that Gastelum himself is a bit of a flake. Nonetheless, here we are in yet another fight I’m doubting Weidman. Am I wrong? Why does such an elite fighter make me question whether the threat is real?

Phil: 3 straight knockout losses will do that to you. And look, it’s not like this is simply a case of the top of middleweight being very good, and that all the fighters at this level tend to be ferocious finishers. Weidman’s struggles of late can’t just be ascribed to stylistic issues, or a probabilistic slump. This is not the man who decided not to renew his UFC contract before he fought Anderson goddamn Silva at the height of his infamy, because Weidman was so sure that he was going to win. The Gastelum fight was somewhat encouraging, in that Weidman fought his way out of a hole, but something is wrong. Injuries? Damaged confidence? Likely some combination of the two, but it’s hard to tell.

David: Jacare’s career is a tale of two twilights. Never took advantage of his career’s dawn, but hasn’t quite been at a disadvantage in his career’s dusk. And so he’s constantly on the cusp. He’s one of my favorite fighters to watch, but it’s clear — at least to me — that he was overcoached early on. I don’t think Jacare was ever UFC champion material, granted, but when it comes to the highest levels of competition, philosophical errors in tactics and strategy become that extra 2% that makes the difference. Am I wrong, British Ed Norton?

Phil: I think you’re mostly right, I don’t think Jacare ever could have had a long run at the title, but had he gotten a crack at Anderson, or even Weidman himself, we might be talking about him as more than just the Strikeforce middleweight champion. That being said, his early UFC career was largely spent in title contention purgatory: injuries, being delivered replacement opponents where it was literally impossible for him to style on them enough to get people invested in him as a title contender (Chris Camozzi! Twice!), and generally the kind of matchmaking which a Brazilian grappler can expect. It still feels like a missed opportunity. The violence, the physicality, the crocodile gimmick. It’s a shame that much of that seems like a “could have been.”

What’s at stake?

David: Metaphysically at least — a lot. A loss will define these fighters in historical ways. If Jacare loses, he’s officially out of the title picture, and maybe the UFC will trade him to ONE for someone else Dana White blocked on Twitter. If Weidman loses, he’ll be a champion’s punchline. Remember when Weidman of all people dethroned a pound-for-pound great?

Phil: This feels very much like someone will be booted from title contention permanently with a loss. It’s not like middleweight is bursting with young contenders, but neither of these men is young or exactly injury-free.

Where do they want it?

David: Weidman has always been a pugilism paradox for me. He’s an absolutely brilliant grappler. He won UFC gold by knocking out one of the best MMA strikers ever. And yet there are times when he looks like a ham-and-egger out there. Part of the issue has to do with dummies like me. IQ is hard to truly appreciate in sports. In hockey, you want to see silky skaters and gifted shooters. If a player is neither of these, what value could they possibly have? How do some dudes find themselves in the right place at the right time?

Other sports actually have stats to measure creativity and IQ. In hockey, the stat for this is called IPP. We don’t have anything like this in MMA, but I always go back to fighters like OSP or Melvin Guillard: What good is speed if you have no timing? What good is strength if you have no positioning? Weidman helps clarify what we mean in MMA when we talk IQ. To keep bloviating for a second, I think IQ and intelligence are mutually exclusive on a certain level. Weidman has a high IQ at the level of mechanics: on the ground he knows how to position himself in top control, on the feet he knows how to time his strikes. However, at the level of strategy, I don’t think he’s particularly effective at making fight inferences and tactical deductions. He damn near scrubbed out precisely because he’s fighting to his opponent’s strengths too often. This bout is a nice cushion in some ways.

Phil: Defense, defense, defense. It’s often said that countering is one of the hardest skills for an MMA fighter to learn, and yet I’m not sure if this is true: it’s not necessarily that hard to wait for someone to throw and then return once the opponent is off balance. Which actually makes Weidman relatively rare: a fighter who is almost entirely only comfortable on the lead, while having almost no weapons when pushed backwards. Not only does this make him vulnerable to those who can overpower him with offense (Rockhold) but it can also make his offense one-note and easy to time, since both him and his opponent know that he offers little moving backwards, and so has to always be moving forwards. With that being said, he remains a powerful hitter, a good wrestler and a murderous top position grappler. He’s still very tough, and his gorilla reach does a reasonable amount of work making up for his defensive deficiencies.

David: Jacare has cycled through various incarnations — as elite grapper and emphatic slugger. He’s pretty good at being both, thanks to his raw athleticism. Few fighters are able to grapple with the kind of farm strength that made Matt Hughes famous, but Jacare is definitely one of them. He has something akin to the Ronda Rousey problem (really an MMA problem) in which fighters and coaches identify their weaknesses through heuristics: great submissions + better striking = well rounded. It’s Papa Johns-level philosophy, basically. If we’re gonna break fighter profiles into essential profiles, the formula should go something like: great grappling + proximity wrestling with improved striking = meaningful offense. So Jacare is like a lot of MMA fighters. They succeed on the strength of their parts rather than the sum. Still, his raw power, and good instincts has gotten him this far, which sets him up well for this fight in many ways.

Phil: I think in recent fights we’ve seen what will likely be Jacare’s final form: the crafty veteran. The physical force who spammed spin kicks and double legs back when he fought Rockhold is gone, and the current Jacare is a study in minimalism. Like Weidman, he works best moving forwards but does his best work drawing out the opponent and countering. Short right hand, left hook, and body shot. If the opponent stays back, he probes with kicks to the body and head. If they still don’t do anything, he pushes them back to the cage and works for body lock takedowns. Jacare’s muscles might hang off the frame a bit more than they did, and his gas tank might be getting to be too much of a liability, but he is in many ways a better technical fighter than he was when he was younger.

Insight from past fights

David: This one’s a tough nut to crack. Both fighters tend to get drawn into fights where their weaknesses are on full display, whether it’s Weidman being victimized by his inability to fight backing up, or Jacare being victimized for his patience. The ground should cancel each fighter out. Jacare is a better raw technician, but Weidman isn’t exactly chopped liver. Unless one guy is out on his feet, nobody’s getting submitted. I’d mention their common opponent — stud muffin, and self-help acolyte, Luke Rockhold — but Jacare’s fight with Luke happened too early for me to draw much insight from. Jacare had yet to develop his odd, counter-pressure style that has worked(ish) for him in recent years.

Phil: One of the things about the fights at the top of the middleweight division is that they tend to be brutal. From Romero-Whittaker II to Rockhold-Weidman, to most of the other matchups like Jacare-Gastelum and Weidman-Gastelum, they’ve tended to be physically draining wars where the two fighters go strength for strength, athleticism for athleticism.

X-Factors

David: Weidman is a much greater x-factor. In recent years, he’s stalled in fights for seemingly no reason. I don’t know if injuries, general wear and tear, or the Halloween sequels are what caught up to him, but his health bar absolutely plummets in these attrition wars lately.

Phil: I think Weidman is actually more intact physically than Jacare appears to be these days, but I can’t say the same thing for his mental state. Conversely, Jacare stalking after Gastelum like a zombie was impressive and sad at the same time.

Prognostication

David: I have trouble trusting either fighter in this fight. On the one hand, I could see Weidman pressuring Jacare successfully enough to win a decision, but I could also see Weidman following Jacare’s rhythm and pace with minimal success. I predict this fight will be won in spurts. In that scenario, I favor the athlete. Ronaldo Souza by Decision.

Phil: I think Jacare might be the better striker. In many key ways, he might even be the better wrestler, seeing as he’s given up less takedowns over his MMA career, including those to common opponents. I just don’t trust him from a physical perspective. He looked drained early against Gastelum, and was even starting to slow down in his brief and largely one-sided fight against Derek Brunson. Assuming Weidman doesn’t freak out or walk into something huge early (neither of which being tremendously unlikely) I think he just wears out Jacare down the stretch. Chris Weidman by TKO, round 3.