UFC 224 is quickly approaching. On May 12, 2018, at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the co-main event will include two men who have already proved their worth many times over in the Octagon. They have grown to be well-rounded fighters, and both are coming off knockout wins and want their next chance to get that shot at the belt.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
Ronaldo Souza (25-5-0 1NC) is known in the UFC for being a submission specialist, with big finishes over Gegard Mousasi (R3 guillotine) back in 2014, and more recently over Tim Boetsh at UFC 208 with a perfectly executed Kimura in the first round. With one submission of the night award under his belt coming from a first round armbar win over Chris Camozzi in 2015; it’s no doubt that the Brazilian has a diverse ground game, that is most definitely not to be slept on.
Souza has also developed a highly respectable striking game in recent years, with two of his last three wins (Derek Brunson and Vitor Belfort) both coming first round knockout, subsequently earning him performance of the night awards.
Everything considered, Souza’s number 2 contender spot is well earned, but with his opponent coming off a big knockout over former champ Michael Bisping, some might feel that Gastelum is coming into this very confident. It goes without saying that Jacare will have to employ all his skills to get the win, but specifically he will need to stay away from the power and explosiveness of Gastelum.
Jacare should look to use feints and footwork to try to close the distance, clinch kelvin against the cage and shoot the double leg. If the fight goes to the mat, his BJJ advantage will show, as Gastelum does have a submission loss to Chris Weidman on his record.
It is also worth noting that due to his experience in the Octagon, Souza is more accustomed to a 5 round fight than Gastelum, bringing the latters’ cardio into question.
Kelvin Gastelum (15-3-0 1NC) started his career with a dominant run in series 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, capping it off with a split decision win over Uriah Hall. He competed in the tournament at middleweight, but soon decided to move down to welterweight after winning. He found success at 170lbs, showing us a strong and aggressive stand up game with a stocky frame and wrestling background.
However, he was too big for the division and ran into problems with the weight cut multiple times; his loss to Tyron Woodley (split decision) at UFC 183, coupled with the fact he came in over-weight, caused the UFC to step in and Dana White announced that Gastelum would have to move back up to middleweight.
Since returning to his original division he has continued to impress, using his strength to charge his opponents down, with a strong chin and wrestling game to back up any holes left by his aggressive style. He has impressive knockout wins over Nate Marquardt, Tim Kennedy, Vitor Belfort (later overturned but some feel that it was controversial) and most recently Michael “the Count” Bisping.
There is no denying this man his number 5 spot, but he will face his biggest test to date in the form of “Jacare” Souza. He will have to focus primarily on keeping the fight on the feet, as he will feel that he has a better chance striking with Souza as opposed to grappling. To do this he will need his takedown defence and his jab, but mostly he will need to mix things up as much as possible to keep his opponent guessing, possibly using a lot of low kicks to take Souzas’ base away and make it easier to get the finish – we already know kicks work against Souza since seeing the way Robert Whittaker was able to hit him with front kicks, which opened up opportunities for Whittaker to follow it up with punches.
All in all this has the makings of a very technical, competative fight that could go either way on the night. The method of victory is a difficult one to guess for sure as both fighters have legitimate abilities on both ground and the on the mat.
Time will tell but in the meantime, what do you think?