What a week of mixed emotions this has been for UFC middleweight Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard entered the week on the last fight of his contract wondering if this would be his final appearance in the UFC. However, on the eve of his showdown with Robert Whittaker at UFC on Fox 24, the 37-year-old penned a new improved eight fight deal. Something that he was obviously ecstatic about.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 14, 2017
That joy was short lived, though, as he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the seemingly unstoppable Aussie.
The New Zealand-born Whittaker has been on an absolute tear since moving up to the middleweight division in 2014, racking up six consecutive wins. Despite that impressive run, ‘The Reaper’ found himself a huge 2-1 underdog against Souza.
In the lead-up to the fight, Whittaker had been very vocal about his desire to keep the contest standing as he was well aware of Jacare’s legendary ground game. The Aussie was adamant that if the bout remained on the feet that he would find the finish.
In the first round, Jacare looked committed to making the fight a grappling match but he had little joy. Whittaker’s speed and unorthodox movement provided more difficulty than the Brazilian had anticipated. Whittaker circled well and continuously directed the fight back to the centre of the Octagon.
Dana White had said pre-fight that the first clinch would tell a lot about how the fight would play out and this proved accurate.
When Jacare eventually got Whittaker up against the fence he found a beautiful trip that landed him on the Aussie’s back. Usually when this happens it is inevitable that Souza finds the submission win, but on this occasion it was not to be as Whittaker shrugged him to the ground easily and got back to his feet. This clearly provided a huge confidence boost to Whittaker who made the fight his own thereafter.
Whittaker began to assert his dominance early in round two, as he picked apart his opponent with some beautiful slip and rip strikes. The 26-year-old was just too elusive for the flat-footed Brazilian. As the round progressed Whittaker began to come forward consistently and dropped Jacare with a huge right hand that landed behind the Brazilian’s left ear. Whittaker briefly engaged with ground and pound but decided to let his opponent up as he felt his will break.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) April 16, 2017
‘The Reaper’ remained calm and did not rush his strikes before he landed a beautiful teep, left-hook combination – the left-hook being one of Whitaker’s signature strikes. In an almost identical image of his previous fight with Derek Brunson, Whittaker landed a devastating head kick that rocked the already bloodied Souza. This time Whittaker pounced on his weakened opponent and started raining down strikes until referee Mario Yamasaki rightly stopped the contest. This was the first time Jacare had been stopped in nearly 9 years.
In his post fight interview Whittaker was asked who he wants to fight next and he answered clearly, stating that he has some unfinished business with current middleweight champion, Michael Bisping,
“Bisping owes me a fight too. Right now, he’s doing his own thing and that’s cool. But he owes me. I want a shot at that middleweight title. And I think I deserve it. This win, it’s a real eye-opener for not only the middleweight division but maybe a few other people on the MMA scene as well. I mean, I like being the underdog. I enjoy it. But I knew, eventually, people would realise I’m legitimate.”
Bisping and Whittaker were supposed to clash at UFC 193 in November of 2015 but the Briton had to withdraw due to injury. But with Georges St-Pierre scheduled to fight for the middleweight title next, Whittaker will have to wait his turn.
Nonetheless, he won’t be short of opponents in the meantime.
Immediately after his enormous victory Whittaker received a call-out from former middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold. Ariel Helwani broke the news on Twitter after Rockhold had contacted him personally.
Former middleweight champion @LukeRockhold just reached out to me to say he's down to fight Robert Whittaker at UFC 213 on July 8.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 16, 2017
.@LukeRockhold "I was impressed," Rockhold said about Whittaker's win.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 16, 2017
Rockhold certainly wasn’t the only one who was impressed, as this was a breakout performance from the rising Aussie star.
Whittaker has cleared up some of the fogginess of the middleweight landscape slightly by knocking off a prime contender while simultaneously putting the rest of the division on notice. A new contender has emerged.