Two middleweight contenders looking to use the other as a stepping-stone on the path toward a title shot met in the UFC 230 co-main event on Saturday in New York City. Former champion and New York native Chris Weidman faced No. 5 ranked Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in front of a hometown crowd inside Madison Square Garden.
Weidman hadn’t fought since July 2017 entering the bout, but looked as good as he ever has. His striking was sharp and he was light on his feet. He repeatedly landed his jab to keep Souza on the outside and stunned the former Strikeforce champion with a right hand in the opening frame. Getting stunned seemed to ignite Souza.
In the second round, Souza picked up the pace and turned the fight into a brawl. His right hand began to find a home. He landed to the body with hard left hooks. Weidman fired back and hurt Souza with a straight right hand. In the closing moments of the frame, Weidman secured a takedown.
The two continued to go to war in the third frame. Weidman pressed forward with combinations. Souza responded with flurries of punches that landed. Midway through the final round, Souza landed a right hand that dropped Weidman. Souza motioned for the referee to stop the fight before landing three more punches before the referee stepped in. Souza had silenced the crowd inside the famed arena.
“I want to say that I love Chris. He’s a great guy. He’s a hero. He’s a legend in the sport,” said Souza after the fight. “He’s a great guy. He’s a great person. I know here is his hometown. I feel bad for him, but I do love this guy.”
Souza didn’t want to land anymore shots on the downed Weidman after knocking him down. He complained to the referee following the fight.
“It’s sports. It’s just sports. It’s one of the hardest sports in the world where you need to have respect for each other,” he said. “Everybody liked when me and Chris did our face-off. There was a lot of respect, but inside the octagon it’s a war. I come to win. He came to win. It’s a real fight.”
With the win, Souza moved closer to a title shot and put himself squarely into the championship picture.