Winning the lightweight title at Rizin 29 was an emotional moment for Roberto de Souza. His father has succumbed to cancer a few months earlier and was not there to see his son with the belt wrapped around his waist.
Bonsai Jiu Jitsu was founded by Adilson Souza in Sao Paulo. He branched off from the Gracies and started incorporated karate and judo into his sessions.
De Souza was one of five children and they all trained martial arts. While his father wasn’t present to see him submit Tofiq Musaev his influence could still be felt,
“The team used the code ‘dads favourite’ instead of triangle,” de Souza explained.
The fight did not go exactly as planned though as de Souza had not expected to submit the lightweight Grand Prix winner so quickly. He thought the fight would last longer,
“I wasn’t expecting to get any takedowns in the first round. I was going to let him strike in the first round and take it to the ground after he got tired.”
That plan went out of the window as de Souza’s confidence grew during the early exchanges,
“I didn’t think he was that strong in our first contact and I thought I could get the fight to the ground early. He switches during the fight a lot, I was waiting for him to switch to southpaw (and) that’s when I shot again.”
De Souza had studied Musaev in advance and decided that the Azerbaijani would be most vulnerable when switching stances,
“His right hand is his biggest weapon (but) when his right hand is up front he can’t throw power shots so when he switched to southpaw I went in.”
One takedown was all it took and de Souza didn’t even need to put Musaev on his back to finish the fight,
“I had a single leg but he kicked away so I went for the hips. This way even if I don’t compete the takedown I can get his back.”
De Souza was working with Hiroaki Suzuki and says the ONE Super Series fighter helped him with his head movement. In the end it was the BJJ black belt’s grappling that secured the win and he broke down the fight finish as follows,
“I got the lock in and attacked the arm. He pulled his arm away to strike so I secured that arm.”
De Souza had plenty of options at this point and could have transitioned to an armbar or an arm triangle. But he used the extra leverage to lock in a traditional triangle choke and the tap inevitably followed.
It was a moment of vindication for the 31 year old who came into the contest as an underdog. It can’t be a coincidence that he and his Bonsai Jiu Jitsu teammates like Kleber Koike Erbst and Alan Yamaniha keep winning but de Souza believes that divine intervention played a part,
“Many people thought Tofiq would win easily but my team, my family, we believe God is always there with us.”