UFC Fight Night 36 Preview: Ronaldo Souza vs. Francis Carmont

Ronaldo Souza (19-3 (1), 2-0 UFC) vs. Francis Carmont (22-7, 6-0 UFC)

The co-main event of UFC Fight Night 36 is another pivotal battle in the middleweight division as the next title challenger could come from this fight if they score a very impressive win. Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza puts his five-fight win streak on the line against Francis Carmont, who comes into this fight riding an eleven-fight win streak. Souza’s last two wins have come inside the Octagon as he is coming off stoppage wins over Chris Camozzi in May and Yushin Okami in September. Carmont has a six-fight UFC win streak and is looking to build on a decision win over Costas Philippou at UFC 165 in September. Both men are ranked in the top ten in the UFC’s Middleweight Rankings as Souza is at number three while Carmont is ranked eighth.

Fight Breakdown- Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza is soaring up the UFC ladder as he is on the cusp of a title shot in just his third fight since moving over from the Strikeforce promotion, where he was a former middleweight champion. He won the top prize at 185 pounds in his third Strikeforce fight, defeating Tim Kennedy by decision in August 2010. Souza then had a successful title defense against Robbie Lawler in January 2011, but then lost the championship by decision to Luke Rockhold in September 2011. Souza never got a rematch with Rockhold as Rockhold fought just once more in Strikeforce, and Souza won his final three fights in the promotion, scoring wins over Bristol Marunde, Derek Brunson and Ed Herman. Souza moved over to the UFC last year and made his debut inside the Octagon in May against Chris Camozzi. Souza showed off his world-class submission skills against Camozzi, submitting him in the first round and winning “Submission Of The Night” honors. He showed off his hands in his last fight when he thrashed Yushin Okami like no one has before, hurting Okami early and knocking him out in the first round in September. Souza’s last five wins have all come by knockout or submission, and his last four fights have ended in the first round.

Another fighter soaring up the middleweight rankings is Francis Carmont, who comes into the bout with Souza with a perfect record in the UFC and an eleven-fight win streak dating back nearly five years. He debuted in the UFC at UFC 137 in October 2011 against returning veteran Chris Camozzi, scoring a unanimous decision win. Back-to-back submission wins over Magnus Cedenblad and Karlos Vemola set Carmont up to break into contender status in late 2012. That was when Carmont hit a wall in his climb up the rankings, so to say. While he has won his last three fights, his wins over Tom Lawlor at UFC 154 in November 2012, and over Lorenz Larkin at UFC On FOX 6 in April 2013 brought on a lot of controversy. Many obeservers thought that Carmont had lost those fights, and most media members had both fights going to the opponents of Carmont. Nonetheless, Carmont escaped with those wins to run his UFC record to 5-0. His last fight, a decision win over Costas Philippou at UFC 165 in September, was a more convincing win as Carmont dominated that fight throughout. He gets his toughest test to date in fighting Souza as he looks for his first stoppage win since his July 2012 win over Vemola.

Souza is a powerhouse with aggressive striking, dangerous knockout power and world-class submission skills. If you go to the ground with him, the odds are very good that you will be submitted. That seems to be a potential hurdle for Carmont, who likes to control fights with takedowns and top position. Carmont seems to fight like a middleweight version of Georges St. Pierre, and that would be appropriate considering he is a top training partner of GSP, as he doesn’t do anything that will get himself in trouble, but he’s not neccessarily fighting for a finish. That isn’t to say he isn’t fighting to finish the fight- he’s just more not willing to take chances and make mistakes. Carmont doesn’t make many mistakes, and while he has excellent timing on his takedowns, going to the ground with Souza is a recipe for disaster. Souza transitions well and dices people up inside his guard, and he has an excellent judo background that he mixes well in getting fights to the ground. When a fight with Jacare goes to the ground, it only seems to be a matter of moments before it is over.

With all of that being said, Carmont is going to need to use his kickboxing and keep the fight upright. He does have decent kickboxing and utilizes a solid jab, and while he has yet to score a knockout win inside the Octagon, he does have the ability to finish with his hands, legs and feet. Though at times he isn’t the most technical striker, Souza has that blitzing power, and Carmont has been hesitant to stand and exchange in his recent bouts. Carmont puts some power in his kicks and can change levels, but he isn’t an explosive striker, and he leaves himself open to being countered. Carmont has to use his kickboxing to keep Souza on the outside of the pocket, as if Souza can utilize the clinch, he will use his judo to sweep the fights down to the ground. Carmont has left himself open in the past, and Souza will be a fighter who takes advantage of everything.

Carmont does have a size and strength advantage, but the athleticism and speed edge goes to Souza. Carmont having the size edge may make him want to utilize the takedowns, but he should look to stay away from the ground. If the fight does go to the mat with Carmont on top, he will likely shy away from ground-and-pound and work more on defending sweeps and submission attempts from Souza. Despite an impressive win streak, this match-up almost seems like a showcase for Souza. Yushin Okami was probably a tougher match-up for Souza, and he ended that one quickly. That isn’t to say the same thing will happen to Carmont, but whether it is by knockout or submission, the outcome will likely be the same, and that is Jacare picking up another win in front of the Brazilian fans.

Why It Matters- This fight will have huge implications on the middleweight title picture. Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort will fight in May, but should Belfort get hurt or run into licensing issues, it would open the door for potentially the winner of this fight or the main event to step in. Souza seems closer to the title shot, and while Lyoto Machida may be a step ahead of him, Souza could leapfrog Machida with an impressive win and a loss or stinker win by Machida. Carmont is flying under the radar, but if he were somehow able to finish Souza, it would be seven straight UFC wins, twelve straight wins overall, and perhaps the most impressive win in quite some time at 185 pounds. This is a pivotal fight for both men and a solid co-main event that will help shape the next year in the middleweight division. The loser won’t lose much steam, but the winner gains so much heading into the next six months.

Prediction- Souza

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