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Will ‘Jacare’s’ unexpected availability finally land him title shot?

Ronaldo Souza falls as he fights Yoel Romero during a middleweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

While Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza won’t get a chance to avenge a previous loss to former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, perhaps that misfortune could potentially have a silver lining. The unexpected turn of events should have matchmakers seriously considering the idea of finally granting “Jacare” a well-deserved title opportunity against UFC middleweight Michael Bisping.

The No. 3-ranked Brazilian had been scheduled to square off against the top-ranked Rockhold this month at UFC Fight Night 101 in Australia only to see the AKA product forced to withdraw because of a knee injury. Souza had lost his Strikeforce belt to Rockhold back in 2011 via a hard-fought unanimous decision. With the major strides both competitors have made since their initial meeting, the rematch loomed as a very attractive headliner.

The contest now scrapped, Souza would now appear to be the best available option for the current titlist.

“The Count” has made it clear that he wants to be a part of UFC 206 in Toronto. Now we’ll find out whether the brash Brit is interested in squaring off against one of the most dangerous title threats he could possibly face or whether he’ll continue to angle for money-fight options that fly in the face of the rankings system.

Bisping was hoping to land what undoubtedly would’ve been a lucrative, high-profile assignment against former two-time welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre on the Dec. 10 card, but when GSP and the UFC were unable to come to terms, his highly anticipated Octagon return was further delayed.

Bisping, who made a successful first defense in a spirited battle against Dan Henderson at UFC 204 in Manchester, England, then opted to go off the board in a Plan B scenario by calling out Nick Diaz.

While Diaz would undoubtedly make for not only a fun build-up but an entertaining scrap as well, the champion’s callout was puzzling given that the Stockton native is currently unranked at middleweight. Diaz’s last appearance at UFC 183 was at 185 pounds against former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, but he traditionally competes as a welterweight. That contest didn’t live up to the advance hype with Silva initially emerging with a unanimous decision victory (later overturned to No Contest). 

Though the former UFC welterweight title challenger and Strikeforce champion is only 0-2 with a No Contest since his last win over B.J. Penn back in 2011, Diaz still remains a major star because of his fan-friendly style and tremendous toughness. The fact that Diaz has had more suspensions in recent years than victories would seem to hinder his credibility as a legitimate middleweight title challenger. A Bisping vs. Diaz clash would make even less sense with Souza now looking for a major fight. 

The next middleweight title challenger was seemingly going to be determined by a pair of huge matchups to close out the year. Ex-titlist Chris Weidman is set to square off against Yoel Romero in what has the makings of a terrific battle at UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden and there was the Rockhold-Souza rematch in Melbourne. The winner of those respective clashes who turned in the most impressive performance was seemingly the next logical choice to face Bisping. However, with Souza-Rockhold II off the menu, “Jacare” could potentially have the inside track to finally get the call against Bisping if the champion is still keen on fighting in December.  

Souza has posted a 6-1 record during his time with the organization. The lone setback was a contentious split-decision loss against “The Soldier of God” at UFC 194. “Jacare” rebounded in violent fashion as he took out his frustrations on Vitor Belfort at UFC 198 in Brazil by pummeling “The Phenom” until securing the first-round stoppage in Curitiba. That impressive effort earned Souza a Performance of the Night bonus and once against re-established him as one of the most dangerous fighters in the entire division.

There’s no denying that Souza vs. Bisping would be a strong addition to a UFC 206 card that has seemingly been overlooked because of all the excitement surrounding the stacked upcoming UFC 205 and UFC 207 events. The absence of GSP for a show on Canadian soil has also been a negative factor for a Toronto show that is headlined by the light heavyweight title rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson.

It’ll be quite interesting to see whether Souza finally gets his title shot or whether the organization decides to go in another direction. At first glance it would appear as though the MMA gods have provided “Jacare” a prime opportunity against a champion who had previously had the reputation for taking on all comers.

The 37-year-old Bisping has had a tremendous 2016 in finally realizing his dream of becoming a UFC champion. He’s recorded significant triumphs over Silva, Rockhold and Henderson and is in the Fighter of the Year discussion.

If he truly wants to cap the year with an appearance in Toronto then Souza is the fight to make. It would allow Bisping to add true legitimacy to his title reign by facing the most deserving available contender. Not only that but it would also setup a future championship clash involving the winners of the Souza-Bisping and Weidman-Romero tilts. That would certainly provide a banner way to kick off 2017 when it comes to the UFC’s 185-pound title picture.  

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