Jan Blachowicz and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza both know what it feels like to be one win away from a UFC title shot only to come up short in a crucial moment. And both are hoping to avoid another career-altering disappointment when they meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Blachowicz (24-8) was on a four-fight win streak in February when he suffered a TKO loss to Thiago Santos. Santos went on to fight for the light heavyweight championship in his next bout.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division could have another title contender emerge on Saturday.
In the UFC Fight Night main event, Jan Blachowicz, who has won five of his past six fights, will take on Jacare Souza, the veteran star who is making his debut in the division.
UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs. Jacare
• Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil
• Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
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Souza (26-7) has experienced similar heartbreak as a middleweight — twice. Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum both went on to fight for the title after defeating “Jacare.” The Brazilian, at age 39, is now seeking a fresh start in the 205-pound division.
The winner of Saturday’s main event, which takes place at Ginasio Do Ibirapuera and airs on ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET main card, 5 p.m. ET prelims), will not be guaranteed a title shot, but he will at least place himself in the conversation. The loser will be searching for answers on where to go next.
If Blachowicz loses, he’ll be looking at a UFC record of 7-6 and will have lost the most momentum he has ever had, coming off a knockout win against Luke Rockhold. If Souza is the loser, he’ll be staring at (remarkably) the first losing streak of his career — and possibly retirement.
Occasionally, the significance of a win in MMA can be as much about maintaining one’s place in line as it is about improving it — and that’s the position Blachowicz and Souza find themselves in here. Each really has more to lose than to gain in this fight, at least in the short term. And they have plenty to lose.
ESPN Stats & Information
By the numbers
10: Grappling world championships for Souza, who earned eight gold medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship (plus two silvers) and two gold medals at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship (plus three silvers). In MMA, he has 14 submissions among his 26 victories.
52: Percentage of takedown attempts successfully landed by Blachowicz, highest among active light heavyweights, according to UFC Stats.
8: Finishes in the UFC by Souza, the most in the promotion’s middleweight history.
496: Significant strikes landed in the UFC by Blachowicz, seventh-most among active light heavyweights, according to UFC Stats. (Jon Jones is No. 1, with 1,359.) Blachowicz lands at a 50.3% clip, fifth-best among active 205-pounders.
7: Postfight bonuses in the UFC by Souza, who has been awarded bonuses for five of his past seven bouts.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
A look back
RUTHLESS SUBMISSION — “Jacare” Souza was Strikeforce middleweight champion in 2011 when he choked out Robbie Lawler to defend his belt. Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Getty Images
Five vs. five
Jan Blachowicz’s most recent results
Win: Luke Rockhold (KO2, July 6, 2019)
Loss: Thiago Santos (TKO3, Feb. 23, 2019)
Win: Nikita Krylov (SUB2, Sept. 15, 2018)
Win: Jimi Manuwa (UD, March 17, 2018)
Win: Jared Cannonier (UD, Dec. 16, 2017)
“Jacare” Souza’s most recent results
Loss: Jack Hermansson (UD, April 27, 2019)
Win: Chris Weidman (KO3, Nov. 3, 2018)
Loss: Kelvin Gastelum (SD, May 12, 2018)
Win: Derek Brunson (KO2, Jan. 27, 2018)
Loss: Robert Whittaker (TKO2, April 15, 2017)
Tough times for Souza
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza feels great heading into his light heavyweight bout vs. Jan Błachowicz in his hometown of Sao Paulo for UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs. Jacare.
“I didn’t want to do anything anymore. I would go to the gym and start crying because I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t feel like it.”
That was Souza speaking to Gustavo Faldon of ESPN Brazil about the aftermath of his April loss to Jack Hermansson. It was an eye-opening acknowledgement, especially for someone in the just-tough-it-out fight game. But Souza had just seen his middleweight stock go splat. Going into the Hermansson fight, Souza was on the verge of a title shot. Afterward, he was nowhere.
At the urging of his wife, Souza saw a psychologist, who, Souza said, diagnosed him with burnout syndrome, a stress-related disorder that plagues a person with overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion.
“I didn’t practice for three months,” said Souza. “I slept four hours a night. I did everything that an athlete cannot do. I drank soda at 2 a.m. I felt like sleeping, but I could not. I did not get out of bed. I got to the point where I went to the gym but could not come in. I would just stay there in the parking lot and return home.”
Now, after months of treatment and rest, Souza is back in the game — at a new weight class. He is using this fresh start at light heavyweight to rein in his expectations. Don’t even ask about a title shot.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” he said. “I am taking one step at a time. My goal is to train hard and win the fight.”
“I am focused on Jacare now. After that, I do not see any option other than Jones. After I am done with Jacare, I will defeat Jon Jones.”
–Blachowicz, speaking to ESPN Brazil
The last time Blachowicz welcomed a middleweight to light heavy:
Brett Okamoto’s prediction
History is not on Souza’s side here (at least, from what we’ve seen in 2019). He will be the third high-profile middleweight to test the waters at a higher weight class this year, and thus far the experiment hasn’t ended well. Former champions Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman were both brutally knocked out in their UFC light heavyweight debuts. The circumstances around the three moves up from 185 pounds were all different, of course, but I predict a similar result here. Blachowicz via TKO, third round.
Waiting in the wings
Blachowicz seems to think Jon Jones is waiting for him, but the champ has given no such indication. In fact, Jones has been courting a fight with Dominick Reyes, leaving Blachowicz and other top light heavyweight contenders (Corey Anderson, most notably) to sort things out among themselves.
What else to look for … beyond the main event
The rest of the card, co-main event down:
ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Light heavyweight: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Paul Craig
Lightweight: Charles Oliveira vs. Jared Gordon
Middleweight: Antonio Arroyo vs. Andre Muniz
Middleweight: Markus Perez vs. Wellington Turman
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Welterweight: Sergio Moraes vs. James Krause
Men’s featherweight: Ricardo Ramos vs. Luiz Eduardo Garagorri
Lightweight: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Bobby Green
Welterweight: Warlley Alves vs. Randy Brown
Men’s bantamweight: Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Renan Barão
Women’s flyweight: Ariane Lipski vs. Isabella de Padua
Women’s bantamweight: Vanessa Melo vs. Tracy Cortez
The co-main event: What makes ‘Shogun’ a legend
The term “legend” is tossed around loosely sometimes, almost to the point that it loses its impact. But Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who faces Paul Craig on Saturday, has the credentials to back it up.
1. He is already in the UFC Hall of Fame, or at least one of his fights is. Among the 2018 inductees was Rua’s classic 2011 rock-’em-sock-’em fight with Dan Henderson — not to be confused with his classic 2014 rock-’em-sock-’em rematch with Henderson.
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2. He has won eight UFC postfight bonuses: three for Knockout of the Night (vs. Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida and James Te-Huna), four for Fight of the Night (vs. Mark Coleman, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Henderson twice) and one for Performance of the Night (vs. Tyson Pedro).
3. He’s a former UFC light heavyweight champion, as well as the winner of the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix; within the span of four months, he defeated Quinton Jackson, Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona — and all but “Lil Nog” by knockout.
4. His 14 knockdowns as a UFC light heavyweight are by far the most among active 205-pounders (the next most are Alexander Gustafsson’s nine). “Shogun” is tied with Liddell for the most all time in the division.
5. Rua has 1,108 total strikes in the UFC, the third-most all time at light heavyweight, putting him behind just Jon Jones (1,728) and Tito Ortiz (1,241).
6. His 24 takedowns leave him No. 3 among active light heavyweights, behind Corey Anderson (53) and Jones (40).
7. A win by KO or TKO on Saturday would tie “Shogun” with Liddell for the most in the UFC’s modern-era light heavyweight history.
Maurico “Shogun” Rua became UFC light heavyweight champion with a ground-and-pound KO of Lyoto Machida in 2010. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
If only this fight card were happening in 2011 …
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was Strikeforce middleweight champion.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was UFC light heavyweight champion.
Renan Barao was making his UFC debut while on a 15-fight winning streak, unbeaten in his past 26 bouts. Within four fights, Barao would be interim bantamweight champ, soon to be promoted to the real belt.
Also in 2011: Apple released the iPhone 4s. … “The Oprah Winfrey Show” aired for the final time. … The year’s top-grossing film was “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” the eighth and final installment in the fantasy series. … The band R.E.M. broke up after 31 years. … Planking was a fad.
Some undercard offerings from Andrew Davis of ESPN Stats & Information:
Charles Oliveira, who faces Jared Gordon on the main card, is the UFC’s leader in submission wins, with 13. Oliveira’s last fight, against Nik Lentz in May, ended not in a tapout but in the first KO/TKO win of his UFC career.
If you like submissions, this could be the event for you. Besides Oliveira, Warlley Alves has won three UFC fights by guillotine; one more will tie him for the record with Nate Diaz and Oliveira (unless “Do Bronx” gets one, too). Francisco Trinaldo has won two UFC fights by arm triangle; one more will give him the record. And Paul Craig has won two UFC fights by triangle choke; one more will give him the record. Craig would also tie the light heavyweight record for most submission wins with five.
Eduardo Garagorri of Uruguay is the only undefeated fighter on the card, at 13-0. Garagorri will be looking to go 2-0 in the UFC when he faces Ricardo Ramos on the prelims. If Garagorri wins, he’ll tie Shamil Gamzatov for the third-best record among active UFC fighters, behind Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) and Israel Adesanya (18-0).
Ricardo Ramos is making his featherweight debut after putting up a 4-1 UFC record at bantamweight. Ramos recently came in at No. 10 on ESPN’s list of the top 25 MMA fighters under the age of 25. Ramos will not turn 25 until Aug. 1, 2020.
Francisco Trinaldo will be making his 20th UFC appearance, with a UFC-record 15 of those coming in Brazil. The 41-year-old out of Brasilia is 11-3 in his UFC career in his home country, winning his last two fights there.
This card is filled with Brazilian fighters. There is a Brazilian in each of the 12 fights, and overall, there are 15 Brazilians on the card. If a Brazilian wins in every fight, it would tie the record for most wins by Brazilian fighters on a UFC card. That record was set on the May 2013 card in Jaraguá do Sul that was headlined by Vitor Belfort’s win over Luke Rockhold. The record was tied three weeks later at the June 2013 card in Fortaleza featuring Fabricio Werdum’s win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.