Ronaldo Souza's biggest win in jiu-jitsu convinced him to move into MMA.
'Jacare,' a three-time jiu-jitsu world champion in the black belt category, including two gold medals in the open weight division, started competing in MMA while he was still competing on the mats. However, he decided to transition to fighting forever after Roger Gracie broke his arm.
At the 2004 jiu-jitsu world championship in Rio de Janeiro, Souza and Gracie fought in the open weight final. Gracie snapped Souza’s arm with an arm-lock, but he didn’t tap. He went on fighting for around one more minute and won by points. However, the brave black belt says he never got any attention from the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).
"They take too much money from us and simply don’t give anything back," Souza told MMAFighting.com. "I left jiu-jitsu for MMA because those f------ never came to me asking if I needed anything."
Born in Espirito Santo and raised in Manaus, Souza was living in Rio de Janeiro to work on his jiu-jitsu, and he almost had no money to live by himself. The only thing he got from IBJJF for his historical win over Gracie was a medal, and that’s why he thought he'd try his hand at MMA.
"I was starving in Rio with a broken arm," he recalls. "My physical therapist was on the same street of IBJJF in Rio. I met them all the time and they never asked if I needed a glass of water."
One year before having the courageous win over Gracie, "Jacare" made his MMA debut in Manaus for Jungle Fight’s inaugural card.
"I always fought MMA for love, something I wanted to do," he said. "When I first saw the Jungle Fight, I knew I wanted to do that."
As many first-timers find out, MMA was a challenge. And his debut didn't go well.
Despite having stellar grappling skills, Souza decided to stand and bang with Jorge Patino "Macaco", who was 15-5-1 (1 no-contest) at that time. Patino hadn’t won his prior six fights, but he was well-rounded enough to deal with Souza’s non-existent striking game.
"I did everything wrong," Souza said. "I heard the wrong advices, pure bulls---. Someone should have come to me and said ‘f------, take him down and do what you know,' but a lot of losers kept telling me to brawl, that they wanted to watch a good show on TV.
"'Macaco' was really tough, he’s still winning fights today. He had fought 25 MMA fights and it was my debut, man. I was stupid enough to fight him, but I learned a lot with that. I realized that MMA was different from jiu-jitsu."
Souza decided to leave jiu-jitsu, and he heard some criticism for that.
"I always knew I needed to leave jiu-jitsu to focus on MMA and I heard a lot of critics from the jiu-jitsu practitioners," he said. "But today they know that you wasted a lot of time trying to do both."
Seven years later, "Jacare" won his first title in MMA with a decision win over Tim Kennedy at Strikeforce. At 18-3 (with 1 no-contest) in MMA, the Brazilian enters the Octagon for the second time on Sept. 4 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil at UFC Fight Night 28, against Yushin Okami, and he "would love" to tap Okami as he did to Chris Camozzi during his UFC debut.
"I‘m in phenomenal shape, feeling like a giant," he said. "I’m absolutely positive that I will put on a great fight, and I’m ready for this challenge. I would love to submit him, but I’m focused on winning the bout."
Okami hasn’t been submitted in over ten years of MMA career, and his wrestling skills could be tailor-made to handle Souza’s takedowns. "Jacare" is aware of Okami’s abilities, but he knows the Japanese fighter hasn't faced someone with his grappling credentials.
"I love to work on the clinch," he said. "When someone tries to put me on the fence and work on the clinch, someone is going to get hurt, and it won’t be me."