By Schwan Humes
Saturday night at UFC 208, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza had yet another impressive win in the Octagon, finishing Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch in one round by kimura submission. After this decisive win, Jacare stated that he wants Michael Bisping; he wants his shot at the title. As a fan of mixed martial arts, I acknowledge and respect the physical talent and the technical skills of Jacare, but talent and skill alone do not determine rankings, nor do they determine title challengers. In this new world in MMA, two things more often than not determine both things. The first is strength of brand (i.e. popularity) and potential to draw attention (butts in seats, ratings, and PPV buys). The second is quality of overall opposition and quality of wins. These two considerations are the things I will discuss in determining whether there is a case to be made for Jacare to be named a title challenger.
Jacare came into the world of mixed martial arts as one of the foremost Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitors in the world. Countless accolades followed him, building an interest in fans, camps, and organizations. Souza was known as one of the best technical grapplers in the world, as well as an elite athlete; his foray into mixed martial arts was something that drew a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Upon his entry into the ultimate combat sport, Jacare did not fail to deliver, as he navigated the notoriously dangerous waters of this sport, managing to compete for one world title (DREAM) and win and defend another (Strikeforce). Along the way, Jacare competed against and more often than not won against a who’s who of the middleweight division: Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Zelg Galesic, Gegard Mousasi, Matt Lindland, Joey Villasenor, Tim Kennedy, Robbie Lawler, Luke Rockhold, and Derek Brunson were some of the fighters he competed against before even he stepped one foot into the Octagon. These are names that any educated fan of the sport would recognize and acknowledge as legitimate, if not at some point elite, middleweight fighters; Jacare’s resume established him as a top-tier fighter and someone who deserved to be given an opportunity to compete in the “Super Bowl of mixed martial arts.”
During his run in the Octagon, Jacare’s list of opposition reads as such: Yushin Okami, Chris Camozzi (twice), Francis Carmont, Yoel Romero, Vitor Belfort, and Tim Boetsch -- not a bad list when you think about it, as all these fighters have had, for the most part, established careers in the UFC. Upon further examination, however, the record begins to get a little shaky. The win over Okami was over three years ago, Belfort has only gone 1-3 in his last four, Camozzi has a winning record in the UFC but has consistently been exposed against better than average opposition, Carmont was similarly exposed against better opposition, and Boetsch is an established fighter in the UFC who has had a career full of peaks and valleys. The two most relevant opponents he has faced are Mousasi over two years ago and Romero, who won a disputed decision. So in regards quality of wins, the case for Jacare becomes difficult to make when compared to a fighter like Yoel Romero (who not only has a win over Souza, but also has wins over Brunson, Lyoto Machida, and Kennedy) or former titleholders Chris Weidman or Rockhold.
Ultimate Fighting Championship says the opposite.
On top of the issue regarding the quality of his wins and the level of opposition; we now have to factor one other thing: Popularity. In the age of “moneyweight” divisions and money fights, the climb any fighter takes towards the title is inherently more treacherous, as legitimate and dominant wins are no longer enough. Not enough to guarantee a title shot, not enough to guarantee top-ranked opposition, main card spots, and title shots. You need to have a fan support -- a strong, vocal, and financially viable contingent of fans who will support your fights, bang your drum, and most importantly, use their dollars to put you in position to move up the ladder as swiftly as possible.
Talent, skills, experience, and physical ability; all these things say that Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza should be a title challenger, as few other fighters can legitimately compete with him in any of those areas. Unfortunately for Jacare, that isn’t enough. What he has done before far outpaces what he has done recently, and what he has done recently isn’t enough to overshadow his contemporaries, nor is it enough to overshadow Souza’s own previous accomplishments in other organizations. That in and of itself is manageable, as it just requires Souza to continue to win; which given his pedigree and talent isn’t hard to see happening.
But the lack of cachet, that is something that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Jacare to force Bisping or the UFC’s hand, and get the title fight that he believes he deserves. Is there a case to be made for “Jacare” Souza to challenge for a title? Yes. Is it a strong case? No. Whether you consider his level of opposition or his level of stardom, Jacare unfortunately falls short in both instances. And until one of these things changes, he will have to continue to win, and continue to do so impressively, if he hopes to become the title challenger he so forcefully proclaims he should be.