Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza finally has himself a crack at UFC gold if he can get by “The Joker” Jack Hermansson in the main event of UFC Fort Lauderdale slated for April 27 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. The event was previously scheduled for regular ESPN but received a change in programming to ESPN+ after Yoel Romero fell out of the headliner at the beginning of the month. On April 9, less than a three weeks notice, Hermansson stepped in for his middleweight counterpart to join the more experienced Jacare at the top of the bill.
Both Jacare and Hermansson are Top 10 middleweights in the world, according to the UFC’s official divisional rankings. But the divide becomes a little wider when referring to Sherdog’s mixed martial arts rankings. Souza is rated No. 5 in the class. Hermansson is on the outside looking in of the elite but meriting an honorable mention alongside the likes of Derek Brunson and Anderson Silva.
Having defeated Brunson twice over, Souza (26-6) has had an up and down time in the UFC since crossing over in 2013. The move followed a sojourn as Strikeforce middleweight champion, where he turned away a couple notable names: Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler. On the back of a 9-3 Octagon record, stopping six men inside the first round, he owns seven post-fight bonuses. With such a strong resume behind him, Jacare made it clear his MMA career was over if he was again denied a shot at the belt.
“If the UFC doesn’t give me the chance, I’m going to open a jiu-jitsu school—I don’t have a problem with retiring,” Souza said, via MMA Mania, no longer willing to rely on the largesse of UFC matchmaking. And after learning of Israel Adesanya’s speedy ascent to the championship level, he was quick to cast an aspersion against the new interim titleholder.
“I don’t know why the UFC put him (Adesanya) to fight for the title. He never fought against top fighters. Why did the UFC let this guy cut me in line? He doesn’t deserve to fight for the title—he does not deserve, 100 percent.”
Promotional brass finally heard his cries for justice, reportedly promising Jacare his opportunity once the middleweight championship is unified between Adesanya and Robert Whittaker. That is, if he got past Romero. But since Romero dropped out of the bout with pneumonia, the 39-year-old Brazilian has a new challenge in front of him—one lesser known but dangerous nonetheless.
Fighting out of Norway, the Swedish-born Hermansson (19-4) boasts a 6-2 mark in the UFC since signing with the company in 2016. He finally picked up his first bonus just weeks ago on March 30, at UFC Philadelphia, against David Branch, cinching a guillotine on the Renzo Gracie black belt in under 50 seconds. With the win, Hermansson knew he was closing in on the top of the division, even citing Souza’s name backstage as he paid obeisance to the middleweight A-list. In the cage, he foretold the division’s future: “In a year, I’m going to be the one with the belt.”
In all, it was the fifth submission of the Swedish fighter’s career. More notably, the awarding-winning finish was also the second guillotine in a row over fine grapplers as he forced a tap from submission guru Gerald Meerschaert in the opening round of their meeting last December at UFC on Fox 31. Hermansson was all over Meerschaert from the opening bell. He softened up his man with thudding shots from top control before preceding to finish the job early.
Jacare is no less a Jiu Jitsu marvel—an ADCC champion—with 14 submissions to his name. Way back in 2006, before ever competing in the United States, the Brazilian submitted the freewheeling Alexander Shlemenko before slamming and muscling up famed 4th degree black belt Haim Gozali en route to first-round rear-naked choke. Souza also holds submission victories over Matt Lindland and Gegard Mousasi.
Hermansson, 30, is decidedly the underdog heading into the weekend (+170). He kicked off his current run by upsetting the odds in the middle of 2018 with a TKO victory over Thales Leites. Clearly eager to acquire a title shot sooner rather than later, his three-fight winning streak makes him the latest contender in a loaded 185-pound class. Another oddsbreaking performance over Souza (-200) could make him its newest challenger—against Adesanya or Whittaker it has yet to be decided.
Pushing 40, the end of the line is near for Souza. He outfought Chris Weidman in his previous bout, sparking the former champion with a right hand in a hotly-contested striking affair. In the cadre of BJJ specialists, the two fighter’s grappling backgrounds canceled each other out and forced them into kickboxing exchanges. Fans might expect the same thing come Saturday night. Not that Jacare would mind.
Despite a foundational BJJ game, Jacare has continually floored some of the world’s best middleweights with his chopping right hand. Hermansson’s spindly frame has made him redoubtable as they come but just as awkward on his feet against anybody willing to crowd him with punches.
Equal footing at 6-foot-1, Hermansson still has a 5.5-inch reach advantage.
So while Jacare’s title shot in the UFC has been a long time coming, Hermansson’s long arms at any moment could not only put a wrap on the Brazilian’s neck but also his championship dreams.
The main card for UFC on ESPN+ 8 will be broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. ET.