Among last week’s fight announcements, Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza’s inclusion in the UFC 184 card taking place on February 28th of next year in Los Angeles’s Staples Center, was by far the most important and interesting one. Not only because it puts him up against a very powerful Yoel Romero, but because the fight shares the evening with another middleweight bout, that very, very anticipated Chris Weidman matchup with a post-PEDs Vitor Belfort.
This is by no means a coincidence or a “hey, let’s just do this and see what happens” decision. Matchmakers knew the implications and possibilities of setting this matchup, and they are going fully ahead with it. But what are those reasons that have led to the most explosive, most talked about UFC card of early 2015? It’s fair to say that UFC 184 has eclipsed even the return of Anderson Silva against Nick Diaz, which takes place in Las Vegas on January 31st.
Adding this encounter to the same night as Weidman vs. Belfort and Rousey vs. Zingano will drive numbers through the roof, for starters. Jacaré is one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC and he’s a fan favorite. If for whatever goofy reason people weren’t going to watch UFC 184, they’re going to now. And in Los Angeles—one of the United States’s prominent Brazilian enclaves with something like 10,000 Brazilian immigrants—it will bring in even more Brazilian viewers, as they’ll now have two representatives in high-profile bouts of the second most popular sport in Brazil. If Vitor wins, he’ll redeem the shame he brought on his country and peers when he tested positive for PEDs and add to the newly growing list of Brazilian champions—alongside José Aldo and, now albeit interim, Fabricio Werdum. But if he doesn’t, Brazil has a second round in the clip with which to fire off a celebration.
But having a second middleweight bout of such caliber would also be the perfect cushion to fall back upon if, say, Chris Weidman were to unexpectedly become injured, or—fingers crossed—Vitor Belfort were to somehow muddle up any sort of banned-substance evaluation. It’s happened before, and having to pull the plug on that main card would undoubtedly send UFC fans everywhere into wild disarray, not to mention the shake it would stir under the promotion’s feet.
There’s been a lot of talk about Vitor passing all PED-evaluations. Luke Rockhold seems to doubt the Brazilian’s integrity, so he’s offered up himself as a replacement. Ever since beating Bisping, Luke’s been saying a lot of things. Understandably so, he just wants his shot. But now that Jacaré’s in the run, there won’t be any need for a Luke Rockhold replacement if something were to happen. If something does go wrong—if Vitor screws up or Weidman gets hurt or vice versa, or whatever—Jacaré is already there more than prepared to step right up. Finding a replacement opponent for Yoel would be easier to find than a replacement for Vitor or Weidman. If Jacaré gets hurt, then—well, then Luke can have a go with Yoel.
Jacaré versus Weidman or Jacaré versus Belfort is as intriguing and compelling a matchup as any between the middleweight division’s top players. He’ll be ready no matter what, since Yoel Romero will certainly give him a fight.
At this point, the UFC just can’t afford to have anything derail this star-studded event. It’s the company’s biggest bet yet in trying to offset in 2015 what was a disastrous 2014 full of cancelled fights, postponed fights and, more problematically, card-destroying injuries.
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