Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Jan Blachowicz each needed to make a statement to punch a ticket for a title shot. Neither did.
UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje is this Saturday!
PPV main card starts at 2 pm ET. Watch live on ESPN+.
In the main event of UFC Sao Paulo, Blachowicz spoiled Souza’s light heavyweight debut with a lackluster split decision win (48-47, 47-48, 48-47).
Souza’s game plan was evident from the get-go. The black belt in BJJ took the center of the cage and quickly shot for a takedown.
Blachowicz stuffed the attempt, but he couldn’t keep Souza off of him. Souza clinched and leaned on Blachowicz against the cage throwing short strikes, mainly knees to the thigh of Blachowicz.
Blachowicz was able to find an exit halfway through the opening round. Both fighters were tentative at range, but Blachowicz appeared to be the more comfortable fighter. He threw kicks to the lead leg of Souza before varying his target and going high, which Souza blocked.
Souza got the fight back where he wanted it following Blachowicz’s loosening of his strikes. The two fighters again found themselves leaned up against the cage as time expired.
The strikes started flying a bit in round two. Both fighters continued to stalk before each unloaded hooks that landed.
Then, Souza went back in for the takedown. He was stuffed again, but he found himself in the same spot as he was in during the opening round. The fighters traded body shots while clinched against the fence before Blachowicz again broke and circled to the center.
Both fighters showed respect for their opponents’ power. All of the round’s offense for each fighter was at most two strikes before moving out of range.
In round three, Souza continued to stalk as Blachowicz was content to fight from the outside, occasionally bursting forward with a double jab or short combination.
Once again, Souza initiated the clinch against the fence roughly two minutes into the round.
The fighters broke and returned to the position numerous times throughout the round. Souza tried for a trip with a minute to go but couldn’t land it.
With the fight taking on the same pattern of short exchanges before clinching against the cage in round four, the Brazilian fans opted to take their phones out and put on a show of their own, waving them back and forth while also booing the in-cage product.
With little to be entertained by, the crowd has taken to entertaining themselves. pic.twitter.com/P6Tcx9AKB5
— Fernanda Prates (@NandaPrates_) November 17, 2019
The broadcast showed clear damage to the foot of Blachowicz, likely caused by the accumulation of foot stomps from Souza while the fighters were clinched against the cage.
Blachowicz tried to let his hands go with his back still near the cage, but the distance didn’t favor him and ultimately gave Souza an entry to pin him against the cage again.
For the first time in the fight, referee Kevin MacDonald separated the two fighters as they clinched.
Blachowicz appeared to have an opening for a finish after tagging Souza and stumbling him momentarily toward the end of the final round, but Souza was able to escape and get to the scorecards.
The fighters raised their hands and embraced as the crowd showered them in boos.
Souza offered up a reason for the uneventful performance, citing illness during training camp.
“I had a really bad cough and 10 days ago almost had to pull out of the fight,” Souza told Michael Bisping via a translator, “but I had to fight here at home, I had to fight in Brazil so I came.”
Despite the performance, Blachowicz, the No. 6 ranked light heavyweight, called his shot.
“I want someone from the top, maybe title shot,” Blachowicz said to Bisping. “Why not? I’m ready. Jon [Jones], let’s do this. Give me the fight, give me the title shot because I don’t have time. Maybe three more years and then I go to retire, so now or never.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.