Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza | Dave Mandel/

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza survived a scare in his first title defense to turn back a game Robbie Lawler in the third round of their co-main event contest at Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Cyborg.”

After the fight, Jacare was not shy in expressing his feelings on his opponent or his abilities.

“He has a hard punch, man!” said Souza at the post-fight press conference.

Unfortunately for the champion, he found that fact out the hard way. After closing the distance early in the first round, Souza appeared in complete control as he took the fight to the floor and pinned the American in side control. Lawler would not go quietly, however, and exploded out of the quagmire, recovering his vertical base and blasting the champion with punches that sent the Brazilian tumbling to the canvas.

“It was enough to knock me down,” Souza said. “I knew I really had to beat him up. We still have five rounds. When he knocked me down, I was kind of happy. I knew I would have to finish the fight from there.”

Lawler was unable to capitalize on the knockdown and Souza survived the round. The second frame was all Jacare, as the champ again took Lawler down and controlled the action. To Lawler’s credit, he escaped multiple submission attempts from the jiu-jitsu world champion. In the end, however, Souza’s grappling acumen proved to be too much for Lawler, who succumbed to a fight-ending rear-naked choke in the third frame.

“Every fight that I have, I’m getting better. [I have] all the work I put in with my great, great team [to thank for that],” said Souza. “I was trying to open the submission game with strikes. I feel like my takedowns are getting better. I’m getting better on the feet and even getting better in my jiu-jitsu.”

As for Lawler, the H.I.T. Squad product claims that fatigue hindered him during the fight, a fact that admittedly puzzles the athlete.

“It was the weirdest thing,” said Lawler. “I was tired three minutes in. I’m still out of breath. I have no idea what happened. Even when I got out of the armbar, everything seemed slow. I felt good about the standup. I just felt...sluggish. It was weird.”

Regarding his missed opportunity to finish the fight in the first frame, Lawler attributes his difficulty to Souza’s skill on the ground.

“I wasn’t able to capitalize when I had him hurt. Maybe I should have kept it standing,” said Lawler. “The thing is, with him, when I knocked him down, he’s so good with his guard that I couldn’t really wait for him. I kinda sat down and waited for him to recover. I was tired.”

With his first title defense in the rear-view mirror, Souza now looks to the future and to another opponent hungry to wrest away his title. Asked whom he would like to fight next, Souza went to the fighter’s stock reply, stating that he would fight anyone the promotion placed in front of him.

When one member of the media asked if Souza would like to fight Jason “Mayhem” Miller -- whom he defeated in 2008 and fought to a no-contest with in 2009 -- the champion’s mood switched from jovial to dead serious. Speaking assertively in English, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt made known his feelings about a potential third fight with Mayhem.

“You kidding me man? I beat this guy two times. No more!”

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