Originally scheduled to face Yoel Romero in a rematch of their hotly contested, heavily debated clash from UFC 194, the Cuban Olympian withdrew from the bout due to an illness early in the month and was replaced by Jack Hermansson. Though the Swedish upstart entered on the best run of his career, having earned three straight stoppage victories, Souza struggled to find the motivation necessary to go toe-to-toe with “The Joker” and it showed once the two men stepped into the cage.
For most of the 25-minute affair, the Brazilian veteran looked listless. Save for one round where he seemed to find an energy reserve as Hermansson momentarily stalled out, the bout was a one-sided affair with the emerging contender securing the biggest victory of his career, leaving many to wonder what the future may hold for Souza.
The answer would come a handful of months later when it was announced that “Jacare” would venture up to light heavyweight for a main event showdown with surging Polish contender Jan Blachowicz, who was coming off a second-round knockout win over Luke Rockhold earlier in the summer.
In the preamble to the bout with Blachowicz in Sao Paulo, Souza pulled back the curtain ever so slightly on the challenges he was facing heading into his matchup with Hermansson. He spoke about feeling burnt out and questioning whether he wanted to continue fighting, only returning to the gym initially to help his long-time friend and teammate Rodolfo Vieira prepare for his UFC debut.
The Brazilian acknowledged working with a psychologist, but never went as far as to divulge what had been troubling him, only saying that it had been addressed and everything was once again moving in the right direction.
“I was burnt out and it affected me psychologically,” said Souza, who again stated he didn’t want to go into details. “I decided to change some things in my life as an athlete and today I’m super-well.
“I had some problems, but those were resolved in my last fight at light heavyweight,” continued the veteran grappler, who dropped a split decision to Blachowicz in November. “I had the support of my family, health professionals and my coaches. It has passed and doesn’t exist in my life today.
“I’m very motivated and ready to win. ‘Jacare’ has returned.”