A lot has happened in the nearly two years since Chris Camozzi fought Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
Camozzi saw the Brazilian snap his four-fight winning streak, sending him on a four-fight skid that put him out of the UFC late last year, while Jacare has won four straight in the Octagon (seven overall), putting him in the number one contender’s spot at 185 pounds.
Yet remarkably, the two will meet in a rematch on Saturday’s UFC on FOX card in Newark, New Jersey. Of course, getting here was not that simple.
With the news breaking that number six-ranked middleweight Yoel Romero, Jacare’s original dance partner for Saturday’s co-main event, was injured and forced to withdraw from the bout, the UFC began to scramble for a replacement. There were none to be found, but Camozzi, 2-0 with two finishes since his last UFC bout against Rafael Natal last September, didn’t think it would hurt to volunteer his services, even if he doubted that the matchmaker Joe Silva would go for the bout.
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”I had always heard that Joe Silva hates rematches,” Camozzi laughs. “Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but I definitely didn’t think that I would get one (with Souza), especially because Jacare has worked his way up the ladder and he’s right there waiting for the title. But apparently they can’t find guys to fight him; nobody would answer the phone.”
Camozzi did, and after making sure that the Coloradan didn’t have any outside contractual obligations to be fulfilled, he brought the fight to Souza and UFC President Dana White. Thumbs up all around, and Saturday’s card had a co-main event again. For Camozzi, it’s a lot bigger than that.
“These are the kind of opportunities they make movies about if they’re successful,” he said. “Sometimes all it takes is an opportunity to be great. Nobody gives me the chance to win, which is fine with me, but when I do go in there and win, it’s going to catapult me up.”
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Submitted in the first round by the groundfighting wizard in May of 2013, Camozzi wasn’t blown out by any means; he simply got caught by one of the top Jiu-Jitsu players of this era. Even in his next three fights, all decision losses to Lorenz Larkin, Bruno Santos and Rafael Natal, he was in each bout, and many believe he won the split decisions he dropped to Santos and Natal. But an 0-4 run can be the end for 99% of the fighters in the promotion, and the 28-year-old from Lakewood understood that. What he wasn’t going to do was mope and take six months off to “regroup.”
Two months after the Natal fight, he submitted Jeremy Kimball in the first round and in March he stopped Wes Swofford in the opening frame as well. It was almost as if he never left, especially when you consider that Jacare hasn’t fought since he headlined the card on which Camozzi fought Natal. But Camozzi knew the difference between the big show and the local scene.
“Outside the UFC, life feels a lot longer,” he said. “You’ve got to work a little bit more for the money, you’ve got to find places that will pay you enough so that it’s worth your time to fight.”
And whether fighting or training, Camozzi stayed in the gym, stayed in shape, and he kept his weight at a manageable level in case the call from the UFC came.
“I had two wins and then I told my wife ‘somebody’s gonna fall out, I’ll get back in. I’ll jump up and I’ll be ready,’” he said. “That’s why I’ve been keeping my weight low and training, because the injuries are pretty prevalent, so I just had to be ready.”
He was, and when Romero fell out last weekend, he had no hesitation about stepping in. The way he looked at it, he had no UFC contract, no ranking, no unbeaten record to protect, and nothing to lose.
“Right now my record is 21-9, which is decent but it should be a lot better,” he said. “But for me, I’m not looking at my record like a lot of these guys are. I’m looking to go out and make a statement and take opportunities that come. I guess I can understand some of these guys that are in the rankings and in the title hunt not wanting to jump on it and take a risk, but honestly, some of those lower-ranked guys that are already signed by the UFC should have been jumping at the bit. They’re missing out on opportunities and they don’t understand that it only takes one chance.”
So it doesn’t matter whether it was Souza, middleweight champ Chris Weidman or even heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez; Camozzi was going to step in. It’s not that he’s seen significant changes or holes in Souza’s game since their last fight; it’s just that he’s showing up to get into a fist fight, and in a fist fight, all bets are off.
“The fact is, I’m not gonna get any better between right now and the fight,” he laughs when asked if he’s been studying Souza’s recent bouts since signing on to fight him again. “All the work’s been done. I get better all the time because I’m always in the gym whether I have a fight or not.”
Yes, the odds are against Camozzi, just like they were the first time, but luckily oddsmakers don’t step into the Octagon. On Saturday it’s only Camozzi and Souza, and the former Ultimate Fighter cast member is confident, so much so that he turned down the offer of a catchweight and that he looks at this fight as a chance to not just win, but dominate.
“I think a win over the number one contender puts me right up in the top five, top ten,” he said. “I just need to go out there and make that statement. Not squeak by with a win; I need to blow him out.”