Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza of Brazil celebrates after defeating Derek Brunson

No one expected a wipe, but most fans had Chris Weidman beating Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The NY native stood taller, moved quicker and fought longer. He finished the man who had just beaten Jacare in his most recent fight, Kelvin Gastelum.

Meanwhile, Jacare inched closer to 40-years-old. His losses to Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker were understandable, as the former is a freak of nature and the latter a breakout middleweight world-beater. But the Gastelum loss showed Jacare riding the downswing of his career. As his physical prime fades, his one-handed power punching and taxing grappling seemed insufficient in the face of new competition.

Perhaps due to a gentleman’s agreement, neither fighter really attempted to take their opponent to the ground. The only “take-down” was off a caught head kick by Weidman, who followed up only half-heartedly at the end of the round. Consequently, the entire fight was a kickboxing match.

Yet, on short notice, Jacare knocked out Weidman. And he did so looking like a better striker than all his previous years put together.

Jacare’s two left hands

With the exception of his head kick over Derek Brunson, Jacare’s striking highlights come courtesy of a booming overhand right. His reliance on one-handed punching was mitigated by his extraordinary grappling threat. But Whittaker and Gastelum showed that if you could stop a takedown, Jacare’s striking could be exploited. Jacare’s overhand right still made its appearance, and Weidman outright dodged the overwhelming majority of them.

But it was Jacare’s left hand that did extraordinary damage with two main techniques.

The first was a digging shot to the liver which, incidentally, was the first shot he landed cleanly. Weidman wore it well, never even hinting at any sort of damage. But Weidman barely blocked any of them, so Jacare kept targeting his liver. In fact, Jacare landed 24 of 31 body shots, and I conservatively estimate 80% of those to be liver blows.

The second came in the form of a beautiful intercepting left hook to the head. Weidman constantly circled to Jacare’s left to avoid the overhand right. In the second round, Jacare realized this and met him with left hooks to the head. Weidman blocked nearly all of them, but a padded hand isn’t enough to negate the force of moving your head into a moving fist.

Role reversal

Jacare was supposed to explode early while Weidman slowly stole the momentum. But it was Jacare who suffered early before building to a roaring crescendo.

Weidman won the first round comfortably. He ate a few hard liver punches and a few welting leg kicks, but he pieced up Jacare with his boxing and hurt him with a right hand around the crook of his guard. The few right hands he couldn’t dodge outright were either blocked or rolled with.

He won the second round as well, but with significantly more trouble. Whenever he clinched, Jacare grabbed a single collar tie and worked his face and liver with hooks and uppercuts. The liver shot was still landing, and the intercepting left hooks were landing so hard that Jacare often had time for glancing follow-up right hands. Weidman still rolled with the overhand rights, but could no longer get out of their way. His jab scored plenty, but he couldn’t always retract back in time.

Down 0-2 going into the third round, Jacare still had the momentum squarely on his side.

Gator unleashed

Weidman may not have been hurt yet going into the third round, but he was much slower. You can’t eat several hard leg kicks and 15 or so liver shots and not lose gas. Weidman’s hands were still active but he stood flat-footed. Jacare had full control of the pace of the fight, and he transformed it into the brawl he so badly needed.

Jacare opened with a brutal leg kick and liver punch before tagging Weidman with a compact right hand. With nowhere to go, Weidman tried to fight back but was overwhelmed by Jacare’s combination punching. When he finally did circle away, Jacare caught him with multiple right hands. Briefly catching Jacare with a body kick and elbow, he nonetheless stared down the barrel of a loaded gun.

Halfway through the final round, Jacare initiated a sublime finishing sequence.

He loaded up on a right hand and, with no telegraph, leaped forward with a left hook. Weidman, too slow to react, ate it flush. When Weidman tried to guard himself, Jacare grabbed a clinch and split him with a knee. Weidman staggered to the fence only to eat another right hand and liver shot. Out of desperation, Weidman planted his feet and threw his right hand as Jacare did the same. Jacare’s right bounced off Weidman’s temple as the American’s right slipped harmlessly past.

Jacare didn’t even try to follow up. If the referee had done his job, Jacare would have had his first legitimate walk-off KO victory in the UFC.

Ever evolving

This isn’t a veteran who “regained previous form” because Jacare never looked this good on the feet.

At 38-years-old, Jacare developed his left hand on short notice, and it worked beautifully. He pulled back on his right hands when it became obvious Weidman could dodge them. If this Jacare had shown up against both Romero and Gastelum, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.

Jacare is still past his physical prime. But he’s one of the few fighters in recent memory that has put in work to deserve a title shot, rather than just wins.

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