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‘Jacare’ Souza outlines future plans: Stop Kevin Holland, then beat Marvin Vettori

Ronaldo Souza finally re-enters the UFC cage Saturday, battling rising Kevin Holland in Las Vegas. | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ronaldo Souza will put an end to the longest layoff of his MMA career Saturday, when he meets Kevin Holland at UFC 256 in Las Vegas, and wants to stay busy after Dec. 12.

“Jacare” attempted to be active over the past few months, but had an April fight with Uriah Hall postponed and then canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally scheduled to return, the former Strikeforce middleweight titleholder saw his original opponent Marvin Vettori withdraw to fight Jack Hermansson instead, leaving him with Kevin Holland.

Away from the eight-sided cage since a decision loss to Jan Blachowicz in November 2019, Souza is not treating this as a layoff because “I trained to fight Hall and made weight, so, for my body and my mind, it’s like I fought.” From Hall to Vettori and now Holland, however, “Jacare” had a lot to adapt in the gym — the one he built in his home garage during the pandemic.

“The styles changed in a lot,” Souza said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Vettori is a southpaw and Holland is orthodox, a bit lengthier, but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m well prepared and I’ll show why I’m here. I’ll go there and put on a show, for sure. I had a great camp and I’m ready to win this fight.”

Souza’s camp was leaded by his longtime head coach Josuel Distak, “the man that made me Strikeforce champion.” Former UFC champion and current Bellator star Lyoto Machida played an important role in his preparation, too. Brazilian wrestler Antoine Jaoude and “some good American wrestlers were kicking my butt every day” also assisted the jiu-jitsu ace in this camp, he said.

Holland enters the biggest fight of his MMA career after going 4-0 in the UFC since May, including stoppages over Anthony Hernandez, Joaquin Buckley and Charlie Ontiveros.

“He’s tough, he’s been tested,” Souza said of “Trailblazer’s” recent run in the octagon. “Not everyone enters the UFC and wins four fights in a row in such a short period of time. The UFC is the biggest MMA promotion in the world and I respect his abilities, he’s a great fighter, but I’m ready and I will stop him.”

Souza is “no longer paying attention to the ranking” after feeling ignored in the title conversation for so long, so his focus today is “to fight and win” now. That said, he does have a plan in mind for his next move in the middleweight class.

“This victory puts me standing across Vettori,” Souza said of the Italian fighter, who beat Hermansson this past Saturday. “He’s coming up now, he challenged me, talked a bunch of crap. I’ll beat this guy now and then I’ll beat Vettori.”

“Jacare” was also interested in rematching Hermansson, and says he even volunteered to replace Holland at the Dec. 5 card but the Swedish middleweight allegedly declined. Other rematches in his radar were rematches with Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero, but says Rockhold “has always turned it down” since their Strikeforce days, and Romero recently “chickened out.”

At 41 years of age and on the first losing skid of his 17-year MMA career, Souza vows to prove on Dec. 12 he’s still a force to be reckoned with.

“You talk about my age, but I just beat the man of the light heavyweight division, I just fought five rounds with him,” said Souza, in reference to a split decision defeat to Blachowicz in Brazil. “He’s knocking everybody out and he was afraid of me. I made enough to win, but unfortunately they didn’t give me the victory. I’ll show everyone how young I am on Dec. 12. I’m better than ever, and I’ll prove that inside the octagon.”

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