Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza has a long history with former UFC champion Vitor Belfort, as a fan. Though Belfort is only a few years older than the submission grappling legend, "The Phenom" started out in professional MMA so young that he became a hero for Souza and his friends as they were growing up and just starting their Brazilian jiu-jitsu careers in South America.
"When Belfort was fighting in the UFC as a champion, I lived in Manaus - I was starting my career in jiu-jitsu, and we would run to the news stands to buy magazines that Belfort was featured in," Souza recounts in the new Countdown to UFC 198 (above).
"The guy would be unpacking the magazines and we were already running to grab them. So, I've followed him since that time with the magazines. And now, I have the opportunity to fight against him."
Indeed, Souza goes from fan to foe this Saturday in Curitiba when he steps into the cage with Belfort at UFC 198. The two Brazilians will not only be fighting for bragging rights in their home nation, but also likely for the chance to challenge for the middleweight world championship.
"It's a great opportunity to get to fight against him because if I beat him I'll be able to fight for the belt. And, that's my goal," Souza continued.
There's perhaps nothing more thrilling in sports, if somewhat conflicting, than getting the chance to take on your heroes. Souza is excited to face the man he followed from afar, all those years ago, and take some of Belfort's fame for himself.
"I was very happy when I found out I would face Belfort. I was thrilled," he admitted.
"It isn't every day that you get to face an opponent of Belfort's caliber - a very tough opponent who is a big name, like Belfort."
Souza still looks up to Belfort, but is confident that he can take him down, and out, come fight night. "He is ahead of me and I will get through him."
Though the jiu-jitsu champion has power in his strikes, he is practical in saying that his best chance against the lightning-quick Belfort is to tie him up and take him to the ground. If that does happen, Souza is quite sure he'll be able to dominate.
"In reality, no one wants to trade shots with Vitor - especially in the beginning. He is a very strong guy," he allows.
"I believe the best chance for me to win will be to grapple. To fight close, on the ground. If Belfort goes to the ground, I will submit him."