Who wins the Jacare Souza vs. Vitor Belfort co-main event at UFC 198, and how? Should the winner get the next Middleweight Title fight? Why or why not?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Even without the TRT treatment *cough* steroid abuse *cough* that Vitor Belfort can no longer use, watching the Phenom’s initial burst of violence is still a sight to behold. Prior to losing his title shot against Chris Weidman a year ago, you have to go back to February of 2011 to find a fight Belfort has lost at middleweight. His last ten victories? Ten finishes. As far as explosive power goes, it doesn’t get a lot better than how overwhelming Belfort can be.
That loss to Weidman, though, did give us the blueprint on how to beat Belfort. Weather the storm, keep your head protected, and wait for him to run out of gas. Belfort cornered Weidman against the cage, but the former champ kept his cool, and after Belfort punched himself out, Weidman easily dispatched of the Brazilian in under three minutes.
Jacare Souza would be wise to follow the same game plan. While he’s improved his striking over the course of his career, his bread and butter remains his his Brazilian Jui-jitsu, with an impressive 16 of his 22 wins coming by way of submission. Trying to stand and bang with Belfort, has proven to be a losing proposition for the vast majority of people that have tried. Romero believes he can submit Belfort if he gets him to the ground, and he’d be wise to do everything he can to limit the amount of time the two are standing and striking. Belfort is no slouch on the ground, but his forte is striking, and much like Souza, he’s better off not challenging his opponent where they hold an advantage.
This fight really comes down to Souza withstanding Belfot’s initial bursts. Belfort really slows down after his initial rush, and if he doesn’t finish Souza early, he’s probably going to get finished himself. Souza took some shots from Yoel Romero in his last fight that almost finished him, look for him to wise up and keep himself better protected this time around. Souza by submission, inside of two rounds.
The two most logical fights to make for the next Middleweight championship bout are the winner of Belfort-Souza vs. the winner of Rockhold-Weidman, or Rockhold v. Weidman III. While both Souza and Belfort don’t have much of a winning streak going at the moment (one victory in their last three combined fights between them), there’s really no one else. They’re ranked #3 and #4 respectively, and the middleweight division is kind of a barren wasteland at the moment. The next two on the rankings after them are currently Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva, and they hardly seem deserving of shots at the belt right now.
Souza had done enough previously to warrant a title shot, and his split decision loss (many felt he won) against a Yoel Romero who popped for PEDs really doesn’t diminish that much. It may seem that Belfort is ranked too high as the #3 contender, but again, there’s really no one else when you look down the list. If Rockhold defeats Weidman again, a fight against Souza makes more sense then any. While Rockhold did defeat Souza previously, it was almost five years ago. Belfort holds the distinction of being the last man to beat Rockhold, by spin-kick, highlight-reel knockout. It’s another rematch the UFC could sell. Weidman v. Rockhold III comes into play if Weidman defeats Rockhold in an outstanding, back and forth affair, and Belfort takes down Souza. There’s no real reason to make a Weidman-Belfort fight quite so soon. Have Belfort fight Bisping or Silva again, or even a returning Romero to help sort the rest of the division out.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think Jacare wins after surviving that initial burst from Belfort. I think he plays it safe at the beginning until he sees an opening and gets Belfort down. I know that Belfort is really good on the ground (as is Jacare), but I think the goal will be more to wear Belfort down on the ground rather than going for the finish. Maybe in the later part of the second round or in the third round, Jacare gets the finish, but I think the goal is just for him to do as much damage as possible while also avoiding a sudden knockout blow from Belfort. My hope is that Belfort is relentless in his attack and Jacare has to be more aggressive and goes for the finish. I think things start slow and pick up in the second round where Jacare gets the TKO finish. The winner should get the next Middleweight Title fight because they’ll have the best case for it.
BRAD WALKER, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Belfort because Belfort killed Rockhold. Jacare is operating at full tilt right now but he’s no Vitor Belfort, and right now Belfort needs to make his last hurrah a worthy one. He needs that belt to solidify his legacy as he’s fought three different great modern era champions in the UFC in Weidman, Anderson Silva, and Jon Jones. He is a hall of famer, but he’d rather be a champion.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
We all know about Jacare’s BJJ chops and Belfort’s explosive striking. We also know that Jacare isn’t a slouch on the feet while the same could be said of Belfort on the ground, even if they aren’t on the same level of one another in their respective field. So lets concentrate on what matters in this fight.
This fight will be decided in the first round. That doesn’t mean that it will be finished in the first round, but we’ll know who wins based on the first round. Belfort has won seven of his last eight victories in the first round with the lone exception being less than 90 seconds into the second round. The ultimate front-runner, Belfort will need to win the fight in the first round or he isn’t winning the fight at all.
Jacare isn’t an easy guy to put away as he has only been finished twice in his career: his debut in 2003 and over seven years ago against Gegard Mousasi while surviving a vicious onslaught from Yoel Romero in the first round of his last appearance. Knowing Belfort will come out charging early on, I think Jacare weathers an early storm and eventually gets Belfort n a compromising position for a submission. The question is whether or not it happens before the first round is over or in the second.
As for a title shot… I want to say no. Romero still has a listed W over Jacare without suffering a loss, while Belfort has lost more title fights than most even dream of receiving. I have been hoping to see Romero matched with Michael Bisping before the summer is over with the winner of that receiving the next shot (sorry Bisping, a win over Anderson isn’t the accomplishment it once was). Despite preferring that, I do believe the winner here will get the next opportunity, particularly if Belfort wins here and Rockhold emerges victorious.
[Photo (c) Jason Silva via USA Today Sports]
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