Jan Blachowicz vs. Ronaldo Souza headlines UFC Sao Paulo this November 16, 2019 at the Ginásio do Ibirapuera in São Paulo, Brazil.
One sentence summary
David: Grumpy Old(er) Men
Phil: Jan of Rivia hunts the mythical Alligator of Manaus
Record: Jan Blachowicz 24-8 | Ronaldo Souza 26-7-1 NC
Odds: Jan Blachowicz -175 | Ronaldo Souza +155
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: To be honest, Blachowicz was always one of those fighters I’d let other people follow for me. He had some wins. He had some losses. But he didn’t have much of a name, and I’m not the MMA snob I used to be. Back in the day, if you called yourself an MMA fan, and didn’t know names like Ganjo and Endo from Shooto, I would have burned you in effigy. None of this is particularly flattering for a sports writer; admitting willful ignorance and all. But rather than take responsibility for the UFC’s inability to hold the hardcore fan’s attention with listless matchmaking, and a morally bankrupt culture - I’ll just give you credit. Your strange fascination with the guy, and aloof eagerness to see him become the 2019 LHW champ has given me skin in the game. Sure he wasn’t impressive beating UFC also-rans like Eljic, Alexander, and Sokoudjou (there’s a momentary blast from the distant past!). But the fact that weight classes exist means he has a chance at something, and if nothing else, we got to see Luke Rockhold get killed twice in the same punch sequence.
Phil: If there’s anything I’m a sucker for in this day and age, it’s someone who fights with a particular glaring flaw which seems guaranteed to drag him (or her) down, and who slowly and diligently closes that flaw up. I respect dogged hard work and self-knowledge, probably because I don’t have much of either of those things? I also respect anyone who tries to be quote unquote “good” at MMA in a division where that seems like such a doomed endeavour. As such, I’ve genuinely enjoyed Blachowicz’s recent surge. He started off as a big strong guy who was so far beyond anyone that he had fought on the Polish regional scene that the level of toughness and pace in the UFC took him years to adjust to, but now he seems to have resolved into a decent, workmanlike fighter with a functional skillset.
David: Jacare is either headed into If Maia Were a Brawler territory, or he’s heading into If Maia Brawled territory. His career has always been a welcome addition to the MMA thunderdome. He’s a jiu jitsu phenom who happens to be a premiere athlete with a soccer player’s face, and get off my lawn toughness. And I mean, real get off my lawn toughness. Not the fake, don’t tread on me bumper sticker toughness. Jacare has entered a phase where he’ll take one to give one. He’s no longer Jacare. He’s the Brazilian Zombie. More or less...
Phil: One of the slightly sad after effects of the explosion of the MMA landscape is that there seem to be less archetypes to go around. Like, do we ever get a Big Nog again, a Brazilian who could inspire huge affection in western fans for being a gritty comeback machine, or will that be largely confined to native English speakers? Jacare’s career has always seemed a bit cursed: never the win at the right moment to get a UFC title shot. Now minimal recognition for a courageous late-career run with a body which is clearly a long way from its prime.
What’s at stake?
David: These guys are quality, fun veterans who aren’t fighting for the belt so much as proving they still got it.
Phil: Light heavyweight is still a division where there’s a reasonable amount of throughput up at the top, or at least there will be until Jones scarpers to heavyweight, or self-destructs again. A title shot is out of the question for the winner, but I could see an eliminator against Corey Anderson.
Where do they want it?
David: Blachowicz has earned his keep with an odd mixture of blue collar execution with an eccentric wrapping. As you are quick to applause, he’s the rare southpaw jabber. Within this basic approach is a strong work ethic, and some basic sequencing skills. Which is not always a given. MMA fighters haven’t even mastered the basic one-two. Hence why it’s so rare to see a fighter sequence punches with kicks. This knack for knowledge, if you will, is pretty much what started Rockhold’s descent into consciousness separation. It was Jan’s punch-headkick combo at the end of the round that started it all. From then on, Luke was a walking, talking, self-help book; bereft of insight, and easy to tear. His sense of sequencing was highlighted against Latifi. Sure the bulls-on parade charging might have gotten him killed, but adding a kick on the end was central to sealing the victory against a respectable opponent. Beyond that, Blachowicz has some tricks elsewhere. He has an off-kilter approach to zone entries with his body attack, and transitions well with his takedowns. He doesn’t have many weaknesses. Offensively, at least.
Phil: Functional strikers are rare enough at 205, but functional southpaws are even more rare. Ilir Latifi found out how much the Pole could crack when Blachowicz punted him in the liver, but it’s really been a relatively recent development that we’ve seen Blachowicz be able to move and maintain a consistent pace. The difference between his two fights with Jimi Manuwa is about as illustrative of the “old” Jan and the new one, where he got walked down by a compromised Manuwa in their first bout, and effectively controlled him with jabs and combinations to scare him off. The other main issue has been in his wrestling: while Jan has an effective uppercut, he’s been vulnerable to chain takedowns in the past, although this has improved to at least some extent in recent outings.
David: I don’t know when Jacare went full-rock ‘em sock ‘em mode. He’s always had some of this in him. Even in Strikeforce, it was clear that Souza knew he could jailbreak some victories. But even before that, his MMA debut against Jorge Patino was just plain madness. What’s hilarious is that Patino is the one who initiates all the grappling. Jacare had no intention of taking that fight to the ground. At least no serious intention. It’s fun to rewatch that fight too, if just for the reminder that rings and MMA don’t mix the way hardcore fans said they do. So there’s always been a little bloodlust. Just as he entered the MMA womb with a taste for violence, he will likely exit the MMA world with said bloodlust intact. There are a lot of good pieces to work with. They work within the confines of a system that looks more like food being digested in the intestines than a human working out the mechanics and strategy of prizefighting, but he’s kind of good at it. His lead left hook to the body is bruising. His strongside leg kick is money. His strikes setup off the jab are quick. In close, he has good, angled combinations, and devious, diabolical knees in close. The problem at this point is that these dynamic attacks don’t move quick enough, or aren’t sequenced the way Blachowicz does. Jacare relies instead on eliciting responses with heavy leather. At this point, his ground game has become less of a factor. In part by design. Jacare wants blood. But also because I honestly think his grappling skills have somewhat deteriorated. Which makes sense. Much of what Jacare’s grappling such a threat was his speed and athleticism. He’s lost most of that.
Phil: Jacare’s game is not an efficient one by any metric. Even back when he was a more diligent takedown machine, it used to come from a single dive at his opponent’s legs, whereupon Jacare would fight back from his knees and bodily muscle the opponent back into the cage (or just get turned away). As he’s aged, these kind of vast expenditures of energy have been less forthcoming: he’ll still try one or two takedowns, but there’s more of a shrugging sense of “oh well” when they don’t work. Let’s just get to some skullsmashing and rib-roasting. The favoured combination of late is the body shot and the chopping overhand, a punch selection which has an appropriately jaw-like quality to it as they close in from opposing angles. Defensively, Jacare has some skill as he weaves inside, but once again subtlety is not the name of the game, and he’s fairly happy to take a shot to deliver one. There are two specifically troubling problems with this approach: Jacare throws short man punches, and doesn’t have great footspeed either. This seems particularly pertinent giving that he’s moving up in weight, where these things tend to matter.
Insight from past fights
David: These men’s last two bouts were the polar opposite of their respective outcomes. Where Blachowicz succeeded by cutting through Rockhold’s surferbro defense, Jacare struggled defending against Hermansson’s vanguard offense. Even so, Jacare was fairly impressive with how he was able to keep that fight on ebbs and flows amidst the tide. One thing I haven’t seen people do successfully is bulldoze Blachowicz the way Jacare did to Weidman. Nonetheless, Blachowicz has a way of moving forward overzealously. It’s how he got blown out by Thiago Santos despite keeping the fight at a deliberate pace.
Phil: The strange thing is that people used to bulldoze Blachowicz. One of the commonalities between Cummins, Gustafsson and Anderson is that they all keep a fairly relentless pace, and that they shut out a Blachowicz who visibly started to freak out despite typically having some early success. The main questions are: is Blachowicz still that guy, and can Jacare still put that kind of pace out?
David: Nothing of serious note. I guess now’s as good a time as any to note that I’ll be in Chicago between Friday until Tuesday. Got good places for food you want to recommend? Leave your recos in the comments! (please)
Phil: Sadly I haven’t been to Chicago for many years so I defer to our commenters!
David: I’m voting with my heart. Blachowicz has the technical, thudding style to punish those moments of vulnerability. He’s not a power puncher, but his strikes have mustard, and for opponents that reach into and past their expiration date - that can be more than enough. Still, I just love Jacare’s narrative at this point. I want to see him bulldoze his way through everything. Jacare Souza by TKO, round 3.
Phil: I can definitely see Souza overwhelming Blachowicz with pure pace, or even just clipping him like Santos did. I’m still not entirely sure I trust the Pole’s takedown defense either. That being said, there are too many red flags. I don’t think Jacare’s physical, plodding style does well up at light heavyweight, and I’m unconvinced that much of his incredible physicality has survived. Unfortunately, if he’s just going to wade forward then I think he might end up in the same position as Rockhold the man who defeated him for the Strikeforce belt. If Jan does win, I just hope it’s less embarrassing looking than that Rockhold KO. That would be a little bit heartbreaking. Jan Blachowicz by TKO, round 2.