It's going to be difficult for fighters to have better UFC debuts than the one former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza had on Saturday night. The submission grappling ace easily dispatched with Chris Camozzi at 3:37 of the first round with an academic head and arm triangle at UFC on FX 8 in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, earning not only a victory but $50,000 through his Submission of the Night award.
"All my life I was very good in that move. Now I'm really practicing it a lot," Souza said at the event's post-fight press conference. "I'm also doing a lot of cardio work, so obviously I'm much stronger. When I held my opponent, I heard his neck snapping, so I knew he was either going to tap out or pass out."
Despite his nearly unmatched grappling pedigree, Jacare was able to win in virtually all phases of the game. He not only earned the submission after wrestling Camozzi to the floor, but his attack was made possible by the damage he was inflicting with his hands.
"I started moving very well when I was standing, but when I realized that he didn't respect my hands, I showed him my calling card," Souza recalled. "When he went down, I just did the groundwork very easily. I knew that sooner or later, something would be there for me, and that's what happened. I was able to submit him."
For Jacare, the moment - a victory in his UFC debut, which took place in his home country of Brazil - was difficult to articulate. It's increasingly rare for a fighter of this caliber to have spent this much time out of the UFC. It was also emotional for him to be at this particular juncture in his career in Brazil.
"The emotion I felt when I was going into the cage, there are no words to explain it. I could just tell I was exploding with happiness," Souza said. "When I walked in and I heard the crowd, there was a moment when I just started jumping, and I said, 'Now I cannot let this crowd down. This crowd is fantastic, and I have to do my best.'"
The question facing Souza now is 'what's next?' He is certainly one of the middleweight division's top contenders, but if Jacare gets his way, he isn't in any rush for a title shot. The jiu-jitsu black belt wouldn't necessarily turn down the opportunity to fight Saturday's winning headliner in Vitor Belfort. In fact, in his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Jon Anik, Jacare said he wanted the winner of the bout between Belfort and Luke Rockhold. As it turns out, however, he would rather get some experience against some of the other best middleweights in the world first.
"I'm a real professional, and I think that rivalry is just natural. If I have to fight against him, I'll fight against him," Jacare said of a potential bout with Belfort. "But I'm still not ready to fight Vitor. Vitor is just ready to go for a title bout, so I hope one day to be ready and be competent. If the UFC thinks I'm ready, I'll do it. I'll fight happily with the champion Vitor Belfort. But I just said it because we don't want to get the loser. We want to get the winner."