Ronaldo Souza noticeably slowed down after a dominant opening round against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 224, and he thinks an unusual weight cut may have played a part.
“Jacare” suffered a split decision loss to Gastelum on Saturday night at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, losing the final two rounds on two judges’ scorecards. After controlling an impressive opening five minutes with his vaunted grappling arsenal, the 38-year-old Souza came out for the second round moving sluggishly as the fight settled into a more back-and-forth affair. Reflecting back on his performance, Souza admitted that his legs felt drained after the first round and said that ultimately hampered him for the rest of the fight.
“Nobody likes to lose,” Souza said through a translator at Saturday’s UFC 224 post-fight press conference. “I’m at home, I’m here in Brazil. The whole crowd was behind me. I’m very, very sad to lose. It’s disappointing to me to lose here at home in the way that I lost. I should’ve done better. I should’ve cut weight better. I felt my legs and that made it very complicated. It was my fault I lost, it happens. Kelvin had a good gameplan, he was doing well in the fight, we had a great fight, but I lost. And I want everyone to know that I did everything I could to win. I really wanted to win this fight.
“I’m very upset by the loss, but anytime I go through any difficulties, or something puts my back against the wall, I do well. You can be sure that I’m going to come out of this one.”
When asked to elaborate on the issues with his weight cut, Souza explained that the host hotel for UFC 224 lacked a sauna and thus “Jacare” jumped rope much more than his usual pre-fight routine in an effort to help lose the weight. He wondered if that unusual amount of pre-fight exercise contributed to the way things ultimately played out.
“I’m very healthy. I always cut weight pretty well, but this time I jumped rope a bit too much because there was no sauna in the hotel,” Souza said. “So I jumped too much rope and that’s why I think I felt my legs because of that, but that was it. There are things that happen. We had a great fight and that’s what matters.”
While he gave full credit to Gastelum for gutting out a win, Souza also admitted that he felt like he should’ve earned victory on the scorecards.
Souza cited his dominant opening round — during which he controlled Gastelum for nearly three minutes, attempted a submission, and outstruck Gastelum by a margin of 32 to 9 — and said he believed he “dominated the action” in the thrilling final frame that saw both men leave everything they had in the cage.
“I was very confident,” Souza said. “I won the first round very well, very well. It could even be a 10-8 round. But in the second round, he knocked me down. I was able to recover, I won the third, so I thought that I’d won the fight. Even when it was a split decision, I thought that I would win the fight. But what can I do, it happens. Congratulations to Kelvin, we had a great fight and it’s good for the sport.”
With the loss, Souza has now gone 3-3 over his last six matches since ripping through a hellacious eight-fight win streak that had him on the precipice of title contention.
But “Jacare” is undeterred.
The jiu-jitsu ace said he intends to continue his pursuit of middleweight gold and plans to consult with his coaches in an effort to remedy his issue with his legs.
“About my future, I’m in the middleweight division, I’m gonna wait for the next fight, and I’m gonna do everything I can to win,” Souza said. “I’m going to see with my trainers what happened, what happened wrong, because I felt my legs a lot and I think that’s what complicated the fight.”