Souza, Lawler let fists talk for them
SAN JOSE -- Middleweights Robbie Lawler and Ronaldo Souza are not trash-talking one another. They don't want to, even if at times in mixed martial arts it feels like a must. And as they cohabit Saturday's Strikeforce card in San Jose, Calif., with Nick Diaz, one of the sport's pre-eminent mouths, neither sees anything wrong with showing up to fight and leaving it at that.
"I have my own style on how to present myself to the media and public," Souza, a 31-year-old Brazilian, said with the help of his translator and manager, Gilberto Faria. "I have no problem talking to the media about the fight or what to expect from the fight. My own style is to be professional, be myself and be more specific about what's going on in the fight, not the person I'm fighting with."
As Lawler enters his 10th year as a professional fighter, the 28-year-old slugger is similarly controlled. He's always been this way, even without the language barrier. Fighting comes first, second and third. Talking? No thanks. The way he figures it, no one would care what he has to say if he wasn't fighting. That's all that matters.
"He talks about the fights but not bad about opponents, which is cool," Souza said of Lawler. "I have a lot of respect for him."
Kicking off an important two-week stretch at the top end of the middleweight division, Lawler and Souza, the Strikeforce champion, aim to be considered among the best in the sport, which is the distinction rightly given to the participants in UFC's middleweight title fight Feb. 5 in Las Vegas between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort.
Souza knows all about Silva, a southpaw like Lawler, whom he joined forces with in Brazil to prepare for their upcoming fights. Sparring sessions were said to be very tough.
"That's what we like about it," Souza said. "When we train, it's at 110 percent. There's no easy training when we're together."
Souza helped Anderson with jiu-jitsu. Anderson helped "Jacare" with striking. It's a relationship that works because promotional affiliations dictate neither fighter is in position to compete against the other. If someday that becomes an issue, it will be a result of Souza's continued improvement, for which he acknowledged there is plenty of room.
But that's all stuff for way down the road. Right now, Souza, an athletic, aggressive, hardworking martial artist, faces the prospect of fighting someone with a legitimate shot of knocking him out. The American's last six wins ended by knockout, including a masterful stroke one year ago in Miami against Dutch banger Melvin Manhoef that registered at or near the top of most "knockout of the year" lists.
Lawler is hopeful that, as others have, Jacare will make things easy and indulge him on the feet. Otherwise, Lawler will be left to fend off hard-charging double-leg takedowns and an extremely dangerous top game. Crediting the Brazilian's athleticism and ability to sit on his punches, Lawler called Souza's striking "pretty good stuff." It continues to be a work in progress, but there's no denying in recent bouts that Jacare's willingness and effectiveness on the feet have made him a better fighter, especially as he expects "anti-jiu-jitsu" opponents to be aware of what can happen to them on the floor.
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"He's a well-decorated jiu-jitsu guy and a good fighter," said Lawler, 20-6. "A good name to fight."
Lawler's last loss at middleweight came in the summer of 2009 to Jake Shields, then the Strikeforce champion before departing for the UFC, by guillotine choke. Lawler chalked it up to something he knows how to avoid but didn't. There can't be a similar moment against Souza (13-2).
"It was just a mistake I made and Shields capitalized on it," Lawler said. "I'm just going out there to fight."
So will Souza.
The best man on Saturday night will reside atop Strikeforce's middleweight division. The best talker: That's a title Souza and Lawler gladly cede to Diaz, who will carry it with him from the cage no matter the outcome of his Strikeforce welterweight title defense against Evangelista Santos.
"You're not going to see Jacare talk down about people so he can look good," Faria said. "He likes the press but he's always going to be the nice guy. To get Jacare to talk bad about someone he's got to be very, very pissed off. Because he comes from jiu-jitsu and has been competing for so long, he doesn't put on an act. He's himself."
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.