The last time Brunson stepped into the cage with Souza nearly six years ago, the former college wrestler was very young in his mixed martial arts career and largely won his fights based on raw talent rather than top notch preparation and world class strategy.
The end result of that fight was Brunson suffering a knockout in just 41 seconds.
Brunson isn’t trying to erase history or pretend like that first bout with “Jacare” never happened, but he can barely recognize the fighter he was back in 2012 compared to the top 10 ranked middleweight about to step into the Octagon on Saturday night.
“It’s a rematch in terms of we fought before. I wonder how Jacare’s mindset is, I don’t think he’s over here thinking this is going to be an easy fight for him. I think he’s very nervous, very worried,” Brunson told MMAWeekly. “He was asking for the fight in Brazil. I was always happy fighting him. This is an opportunity and I hope he thinks it’s going to go the same way.
“Because Jacare hasn’t changed and I have changed. I know what he’s going to do.”
Since that loss to Souza back in 2012, Brunson has gone 9-3 in the UFC with six knockouts, including a win over former champion Lyoto Machida in his most recent fight. Even in his losses, Brunson has shown tremendous growth, like when he out-wrestled Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero for two rounds or arguably defeated the greatest middleweight of all time in Anderson Silva, yet came up on the wrong end of a very close split decision.
Brunson has learned a lot in those 12 fights, but he hasn’t seen that same kind of growth in Jacare.
“Jacare, he has power. We’re two strong guys. He relies on being aggressive and coming forward. He looks to get the takedown. He’s punching and he’s shooting,” Brunson said. “I’ve never been taken down in a fight. Now, I’m not disregarding that I could be taken down, but I just know that I have a little bit more when it comes to giving up takedowns. I have a little more fight.
“I’m ready for him to shoot, for him to not be successful and then have to deal with my striking. My striking is on a different level.”
It will be interesting to see how Souza approaches the fight considering he was never known as a knockout artist prior to his big finish over Brunson back in 2012. Since then, Souza has racked up two more TKO wins, but recently suffered his first knockout loss in the UFC when he fell to current middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Of course, Souza’s biggest weapon has always been his world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where he’s known as one of the best ground specialists of all time, but as Brunson pointed out, he’s never been taken down during his entire UFC career.
That clash of styles makes for an interesting match-up in the UFC on FOX 27 main event and while Brunson isn’t cocky enough to wager a prediction, he does see a lot of ways to beat Jacare and close the door on that first fight from almost six years ago.
“He could over extend and I can put him out of there,” Brunson said about a potential knockout. “It just depends on what he brings to the table. Is he going to be the same over aggressive Jacare? I’m going to take my time and just look for the finish.
“I want to look to get him out of there.”