Souza makes quick work of Okami

Franklin McNeil | ESPN.com
September 5, 2013
Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza turns after stopping Yushin Okami in the first round © Getty Images

The time has arrived to seriously consider Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza for top-contender status in the middleweight division. Long known as an A-list grappler, Souza has developed into a very dangerous striker, as he demonstrated against Yushin Okami -- using a powerful right hand that earned him a first-round TKO in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Souza took control of the 185-pound affair early in the opening round, landing hard right hands and right kicks that put Okami on the defensive. He continued to taunt Okami with effective strikes. But it was a vicious overhand right that did the most damage, sending a dazed Okami to the ground. Souza then finished the job with more right hands that forced referee Leon Roberts to stop the fight at the 2:47 mark.

"When I kicked him, I saw that I hurt him, but I kicked him more," said Souza, who appeared to have injured his right leg. "I couldn't do my Jacare walk for the crowd. I landed a very tough right hand."

Souza, who entered the fight ranked fifth among middleweights by ESPN.com, improved to 19-3, extending his winning streak to five. He is certain to move up the middleweight rankings and a step closer to a title shot. But he isn't ready yet to call out anyone in particular. "Whoever the UFC wants me to fight I will fight," Souza said.

Benavidez registers first-round TKO of Formiga

Team Alpha Male fighters continue to show they are no longer just a camp full of solid wrestlers. Flyweight Joseph Benavidez became the latest member of that camp to show off his punching power.

Benavidez retained his standing as a top contender in the 125-pound division with a first-round TKO of Jussier Formiga. Ranked No. 2 among flyweights by ESPN.com, Benavidez won his third fight in a row since coming up short in his title bid against Demetrious Johnson at UFC 152.

His two most recent wins have now come by knockout. He set up the finish with a right hook to the head that stunned Formiga. That was followed by an overhand left that sent Formiga to the canvas. From there, Benavidez landed several more punches that forced referee Mario Yamasaki to stop the fight. After his latest impressive outing, Benavidez addressed the issue of fighting for the title a second time. "I felt great," Benavidez said after improving to 19-3. "I landed some good shots. I landed a knee that also hurt him to the body. I'm not the type of guy to bark for the title shot. But I've proven I can beat and finish the top guys in the division." Formiga, who entered the bout as the sixth-ranked flyweight by ESPN.com, falls to 15-3. He has lost two of his three most recent fights.

Hallman survives first-round scare to submit Trinaldo

There is no quit in Piotr Hallman, and it paid off for him in his lightweight bout with Francisco Trinaldo. After surviving several vicious kicks to the body during the first round, Hallman regained the momentum in the second to submit Trinaldo at the 3:30 mark.

Hallman extended his winning streak to 10 after applying a kimura on Trinaldo's right arm. The pressure proved too much for the hard-hitting Trinaldo to withstand, and he was forced to tap.

After a difficult first round, Hallman regained Trinaldo's respect in the second. Hallman was able to get Trinaldo to the ground, where he landed elbows to the head before sinking in the kimura.

Trinaldo, a fast starter, made every attempt to take out Hallman in the opening round. He threw body kick after body kick that slowed Hallman and eventually sent him to the canvas.

But Hallman showed his will to survive, returned to his feet quickly and began delivering strikes of his own, although none hurt Trinaldo. While Hallman was able to survive the early assault, Trinaldo's continued assault left the side of Hallman's body bruised and tender. The win improved Hallman's professional record to 14-1. It was Hallman's first fight in the UFC. Trinaldo falls to 13-3. He is now 3-2 inside the Octagon.

Natal can't finish Troeng but gets the victory

Middleweight Rafael Natal poured everything he had into finishing Tor Troeng, but he came up short in that department. Natal won the bout by unanimous decision, but Troeng might have won over many of the fans in attendance. The judges scored the fight 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Natal. ESPN.com had it 30-27 for Natal.

Troeng appeared ripe to be finished in the second round when Natal sent him to the canvas with a straight right hand flush on the chin. Natal immediately jumped on his fallen opponent, determined to end the fight with several punches and elbows. But Troeng showed great staying power and survived the assault.

In the third, Natal applied a tight guillotine choke. Again Troeng refused to tap and eventually escaped the hold. Troeng didn't win this fight -- it wasn't even close -- but he did win a few more fans. The win was Natal's third in a row. He improves to 17-4-1. Troeng had his win streak snapped at five. He drops to 16-5-1.

Bagautinov wins by TKO in UFC debut

Dropping to flyweight did not get Marcus Vinicius back on the winning trail as power-hitting Ali Bagautinov finished him by TKO at 3:28 of the third round. A straight right hand from Bagautinov sent Vinicius to the floor. He landed several more right hands that forced referee Mario Yamasaki to jump in and end the assault.

Vinicius, who competed at featherweight and bantamweight in his two previous UFC outings, made his debut at flyweight against Bagautinov. And while he was noticeably taller than Bagautinov, the size advantage didn't work to his advantage.

Vinicius appeared tentative standing with Bagautinov, and none of his strikes did any damage. Bagautinov, on the other hand, stalked Vinicius throughout the bout and landed the more effective strikes. While Bagautinov was able to get several takedowns in the fight, Vinicius fought effectively off his back. He escaped a guillotine choke in the first round while on his back and eventually got the back of Bagautinov.

But other than instances of good defence, Vinicius never seemed in control of the fight. The loss drops him to 20-5-1; he is 1-2 in the UFC.

Franklin McNeil is an MMA columnist for ESPN. This article first appeared on ESPN

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