Two days after beating "The Phenom" in Curitiba, "Jacare" went to the hospital to check a knee injury. He didn’t receive good news from his doctors Alexandre Campelo and Rickson Moraes, and was forced to turn down a shot at UFC champion Luke Rockhold when challenger Chris Weidman was pulled out of June 4’s UFC 199 due to a neck injury.
"Honestly, I didn’t know I’d get hurt so bad," Souza told MMA Fighting. "I felt the pain before UFC 198, but was well trained and strong, so I didn’t train for a week. I felt the knee again during the fight. I was devastated because I did the MRI on May 16 and on May 17 I got the news that Weidman was injured. If I knew about it, I wouldn’t even do the MRI [laughs]. I had to open the black box to see what was going on with my knee.
"It was a clean surgery, and I’m walking normally now. I had to do this surgery. I had a meniscus injury, and it would definitely get worse if I didn’t do this now. I was physically well in the fight, could move normally. Everybody has injuries going into a fight, it’s impossible to be 100 percent, but thank God I had the best strategy and won."
Souza will start rehab with his doctor and physical therapist Jackeline Figueiredo, and expects to be cleared to train in 20 days.
"I was going to say yes (and fight at UFC 199), but the MRI was done. I couldn’t just ignore the results," he said. "Healthy first. I’m a Christian man, so I prayed. Whatever was in the MRI results would determine my future, if I would take the fight or not. The doctor told me ‘you fought Belfort for five minutes and can’t walk now. Imagine yourself fighting Rockhold for 25 minutes. You’ll lose your leg’. I decided not to fight because of my health."
Prior to his injury and the cancellation of Rockhold vs. Weidman, "Jacare" was expected to watch the UFC 199 main event cageside in Inglewood, Calif., and he still plans on going to the United States to watch Rockhold defend his belt against Michael Bisping. Whoever wins the fight, "Jacare" wants the next crack.
"I am the next challenger," said the Brazilian. "Weidman won’t be back in a while, (Yoel) Romero was caught in a doping test, and I’ve earned a shot. I already asked the UFC for my flight ticket."
On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Bisping criticized "Jacare" for turning down a shot at Rockhold, and defended why he should have been the first option anyway. Souza, who holds a 9-1 record since his clash with Rockhold at Strikeforce, with his only loss being a controversial decision to Romero, disagrees.
"(Bisping) is in the UFC for a long time, but that means nothing," Souza responded. "I fought the guy that knocked him out, so no way he’s in front of me. The guys I beat are tougher than the ones he defeated. Time means nothing, what really means is what you’ve done to earn it. I earned it. They called me on short notice and I couldn’t take it, but I’m next. No need to say anything else. My loss to Romero was a robbery and then he got caught. Weidman won’t return until November. And I beat Vitor up, so I’m next.
"But I wish him good luck, a good fight," he continued. "He can say whatever he wants, and I’ll say what I want. I hope he does a good fight. He’s in the UFC for 10 years and does a good job, so I hope he fights well."
Looking to return in three or four months, "Jacare" expects to face Rockhold next.
"Rockhold keeps the title. He has a good win over Bisping, and I believe he will keep the belt," said the Brazilian. "(Bisping) is a phenomenal athlete and defeated great fighters. He’s underestimated by many people, but I don’t underestimate him. I know what he can do. I believe he will do a great fight with Rockhold. Bisping is tough, deserves respect. If you let him come, he will do it until the end and might win. But everything indicates that Rockhold will keep the title. Rockhold holds an impressive victory over Bisping, but at this level we can’t underestimate anyone."