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UFC on FOX 27 – Jacare Souza vs Derek Brunson Toe to Toe Preview

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Everything you need to know and everything you don’t about two contenders struggling under the shadow of the champion that knocked them out.

Jacare Souza vs Derek Brunson II is the main event of UFC on Fox 27 on January 27, 2018 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States.

One sentence summary

It’s the rematch that no-one wanted, from the fight that no-one remembers!

Stats

Record: Ronaldo Souza 24-5-1 NC | Derek Brunson 18-5

Odds: Ronaldo Souza -120 | Derek Brunson +100

History / Introduction to both Fighters

David: Jacare has led a surprisingly blue collar career in the UFC. After capturing and not-capturing titles in DREAM and Strikeforce, his time in the UFC has been 80 percent interesting matchups and 20 percent Chris Camozzi. He’s not a title contender, but he’s a gatekeeper with elite skills and sometimes that’s actually more interesting than fun brawlers and risk-averse champions. Luckily, a match with Brunson falls into the 80 percent category.

Phil: Jacare’s UFC run depresses me. A combination of opponents getting injured, Jacare himself getting injured, and straight-up bogus matchmaking where the UFC refused to put him in there over more deserving opponents has led to an uneven run of jobbers (sorry Chris!) and contenders, and it’s sort of starting to feel like the window may have passed. Which is a damn shame, because at his best he’s a unique blend of power striking and grappling, and it feels increasingly like its a skillset that we’ll never see contend for a belt.

David: Brunson has put together a nice run of brutal knockouts after sabotaging himself in different ways; johnny blazing his way through a potential win-turned knockout loss to Robert Whittaker, and then avoiding 50 G’s against Anderson Silva. He hasn’t regained his groove per se (Dan Kelly and Lyoto Machida were legit wins but they didn’t tell us anything new about Brunson), but his style doesn’t always need a groove as long as he makes contact with someone’s skull. So yea, this is a good fight for both men.

Phil: Brunson’s career feels harder to nail down than Souza’s, at least partially because it never settled down long enough for us to be certain of where his trajectory was. The most objectively impressive streak was his run of KO wins, but it was one which increasingly had the flavour of a kamikaze run, as he became more and more wild in pursuit of the one round finish, until eventually he ran directly into the feet and fists of Robert Whittaker. Since then, it’s been a struggle to find sustainability, and a crowd-friendly style which isn’t also suicidally risky.

What’s at stake?

David: Nothing divisionally important. Maybe it’s just age-bias on my part though. They’re a combined 72 years old, so I can’t see big matchups and inspired breakthrough performances in their future. Like all things middleweight, the facepunch ladder depends on a) matchups, hence Luke Rockhold getting knocked out by Michael Bisping and b) matchmaking, hence fighters coming out of retirement to knock out current champs. Never say never I guess. 185 is basically one big, revolving episode of TUF 4 apparently.

Phil: Both men lost handily to Robert Whittaker, who is currently on the shelf with a hideous-sounding staph infection. Given that he’s much younger than either man, and finished both of them, it’s hard to see a path back to a belt while he holds it. Who knows, though.

Where do they want it?

David: Like most elite grapplers, Jacare has experimented with how to integrate his grappling into a broader whole to his game and how to toss his grappling out the window (sometimes simultaneously). Unlike most grapplers, however, he experimented this way right out the gate. His debut against Jorge Patino ended with a BIG RIGHT HAND because Jacare saw an opportunity to crack skulls, and was punished accordingly. As a result, Jacare was been pretty darn well rounded his entire career. Look at his losses since: Mousasi, Rockhold, Romero, and Whittaker. Basically, he’ll have trouble against complex strikers who aren’t easy submissions. At his best, he plods along on the feet, and chambers strong overhand right hands to keep his posture open for an explosive takedown. This weird affectation allows him to look more aggressive than he is because he can pick his spots and walk opponents down for his real power: dominating on the ground. Jacare is the rare combination of athleticism and technique when it comes to jiu jitsu. As efficiently as his ground game has translated at the MMA level, I feel like he’s still confined by the “ghost of well roundedness”. That might be unfair, but would Demian Maia be a little more successful if he had Jacare’s boxing? These are pointless hypotheticals I know, but still.

Phil: Jacare’s style on the feet is best approximated as “aggressive counterpuncher.” Like Khabib and Maia, he recognized the shift which had changed the fence from somewhere to get up to somewhere to ensure that opponents couldn’t pivot away from and divert takedowns. Whereas Maia accomplishes his pressure with a pawing jab and precise footwork, and Khabib just throws fearless volume, Jacare stalks behind a cocked right hand and cleanup hook. Like many BJJ players, his wrestling is augmented by an utter lack of fear of failure. He’ll force himself into long chain-wrestling situations and bull full-pelt after takedowns when he only has a single underhook locked up, because he has no fear of being countered and put on his back. That being said, he is a much better top position player than he is a bottom one, and this was in evidence against Romero, who was able to lay down some serious ground and pound while Souza refused to sweep or cover up, convinced that his BJJ would save him. From the top, however, he’s the most dangerous fighter in the division, with the possible and sole exception of Rockhold. Tight pressure, brutal ground and pound, and power submissions, most notably the arm triangle.

David: After all these years, I still feel like I don’t know who Brunson is. He has a quality takedown average per 15 minutes, and lands a good rate of significant strikes per minute, but his accuracy is low, he doesn’t have great striking defense, and yet his knockout rate is incredible. Yea I know, all those #fancystats for what amounts to “hits hard”. My point is that these disparate patterns form something of his narrative: he’s dangerous in brief intervals (i.e. Round 1), so the rest of his fight hyperspace is left to the tactics of fighting, where he often struggles. With strong takedowns, and face melting power, Brunson is great when he’s the one establishing distance. Like Anthony Pettis, or Gegard Mousasi, they need a healthy perimeter they can establish for offense. The first round knockouts are misleading insofar as Brunson isn’t a pressure puncher; he’s just quick with that left from his southpaw stance, and can smother opponents with a broad attack plan. Despite being southpaw, he sometimes masks his takedowns with open stance brawling, leaving him multiples options during the exchanges. Brunson, after all, is a gifted technical wrestler, so that he intelligently makes use of his positioning on the feet isn’t shocking.

Phil: Brunson seems to feel only comfortable when he has his hands on his opponent. He can work from the outside purely based on his natural speed and strength. He has a nice leg kick, and his left hand is obviously powerful and quick. But I don’t think he really likes it. He likes to be able to catch onto that single collar tie and throw uppercuts, he likes throwing people down. He’s a very physical fighter. This has obviously led to problems in those fights where he’s briefly gotten his hands on the opponent, and then been forced to chase that high again, to his own detriment. However, the sheer physicality has its benefits. To my knowledge, Brunson has never given up a takedown in competition (although he’s never really fought a skilled offensive wrestler, either, as Yoel was in his “I just like kickboxing” phase).

Insight from Past Fights

David: Probably Jacare’s fight versus Tim Boetsch; against Boetsch’s hillbilly Judo, Jacare patiently tracked with his left hook, and shot in for takedowns. Brunson is a better wrestler, and heavier hitter, but there’s a strategy in place for him to avoid total chaos the way Brunson is sometimes willing to engage in – at least as long as he respects the takedown.

Phil: Their matches against Yoel Romero were indicative of how good their offensive wrestling can be. Jacare struggled to close Romero down at first, but once he got to him in the third round, he managed to drag the Cuban to the ground, fence notwithstanding. For Brunson, while Yoel was in his aforementioned “not training wrestling much” phase, it was still frankly impressive how much Brunson was able to muscle him in the clinch. The grappling should be fun in this fight.

X-Factors

David: Not much here except for Jacare’s surgery. If Jacare were still feeling the effects, he’d probably still be in bed and not training. In fact, the surgery may be just the trick – does anyone really think we’re this far into the digital age, where language apps can go full racist, and athletes in billion dollar industries aren’t able to get synthetic eyelids, and silicon knuckles or something? Sorry Phil – the nanoespresso is kicking in.

Phil: Yep, Jacare’s age and injuries seem the most pressing ones. He did well in the first round against Whittaker (a whole lot better than Brunson did!), but afterwards he looked incredibly ragged, and his physique just looks to be softening a bit. He’s 38, and X-Gym is not really a camp I associate with career longevity.

Prognostication

David: I don’t think Jacare can do what he does best inside of two rounds without getting hurt. He still overstays his welcome in the pocket, doesn’t move his head, and Brunson isn’t the kind of puncher you simply “recover from” (Yoel Romero eating that headkick notwithstanding). Derek Brunson by TKO, round 1.

Phil: As I mentioned on Twitter, I feel like this one might slightly invert the traditional dynamics of a Brunson fight. While he’s normally the big threat early, I feel like Jacare’s more closed-up counter game and power submissions are more dangerous early this time. But, I also feel like Jacare’s overwhelming physical gifts may be leaving him. Honestly, I hope I’m wrong, because I love me some Alligator jiu jitsu. Derek Brunson by unanimous decision.


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