Ronaldo Souza is returning to action nine months after a tough loss to future UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, but he was close to not coming back at all.
“Jacare” was forced to go under the knife to fix a pectoral rupture last April, an injury that was bothering him for quite some time. He chose to fight both Tim Boetsch and Robert Whittaker despite the injury, and it went well against Boetsch, when he won via submission, but coming back two months later against Whittaker proved to be a mistake.
”When I got injured, Dr. Rickson (Moraes) said I’d needed surgery,” Souza told MMA Fighting. “That was seven weeks before my fight with Tim Boetsch. I said ‘no’ and decided to do physical therapy, but I couldn’t really train for that fight. I even was a bit fat in the fight. But I was fine, didn’t feel any pain in the arm or chest, and was able to submit him. When I was set to fight Whittaker, I started to train hard and get in shape, but it started to dig a hole in my chest and I lost power.”
Souza does not regret fighting Whittaker, and won’t use that a an excuse. “He won because he was better,” says the Brazilian, who underwent surgery two weeks later.
And that’s when he considered retiring from the sport.
”I thought about stop fighting because it was a long surgery,” Souza told MMA Fighting. “When I came back to training, seven months later, my trainer asked me to run for 10 minutes, and I called him back, ‘Brother, I can’t even run for five minutes, it hurts so bad and I’m tired’ [laughs]. It was complicated for me to return.”
”I was thinking about retirement. It was really hard,” he continued. “I thought about it for a while, it was too complicated. I had to undergo surgery many times. I had never suffered any injury throughout my career, was always healthy, and all of a sudden I had a lot of injuries. I said, ‘Man, I don’t want to go to the surgery table and go through all this again.’”
In fact, it wasn’t the first time he considered retiring.
”Throughout my entire career, I thought about quitting many times,” he admits. “In jiu-jitsu, I thought about quitting almost every month because it was too hard for me. I was away from my family in Manaus, I was a world champion and didn’t even have money to catch a bus. But I thought that I’m still healthy, training well, so there’s no reason to stop. I still have gasoline to burn. I only lost to the champion, so I can fight at the high level.”
”When I came back it was complicated because I was completely out of shape, fat, no timing. I couldn’t even run. It was hard.”
Forced to be away from the game for so long, Souza decided to change a few things. He moved to Orlando with his wife and kids and started training at Fusion X-cel Performance, and it all went well.
Souza, who trained at X-Gym in Rio de Janeiro throughout his entire MMA career after stepping away from jiu-jitsu competition, says there’s no hard feelings with X-Gym leaders Josuel Distak and Rogerio Camoes.
”I was always honest with everybody,” he said. “I called Distak, called Camoes, we’re always in touch. But I had to come to the United States. I’ve changed my life completely. I didn’t move to another gym in Rio, I moved to a different country to spend some time here, and I decided to train here. It was an option, and I believe they are okay with it.
“I’m happy with everything I’ve learned with them. It was a good moment, we had many wins, but I had to do this change.”
With coach Julien Williams, boxing coach James Taylor and training partner Phil Rowe in his corner, Souza steps back inside the Octagon on Jan. 27 to face Derek Brunson, headlining Charlotte’s UFC on FOX 27 with a rematch of their quick fight in Strikeforce.
“Jacare” only needed 41 seconds to stop Brunson back in 2014, and doesn’t think either fighters have changed since that night in San Diego, California.
”He’s still saying the bunch of crap about me he said six years ago, and I will go there and annihilate him,” Souza said. “That’s the plan. It hasn’t changed anything.”
Can he once again stop Brunson in under a minute, almost six years after their first bout?
”If he comes with that chin high, screaming ‘punch me,’ it will end the same way,” Souza said. “There’s no such thing as overconfidence, man. I’m experienced, I have a long career. I will go there and do my job, do everything I’m training.”