UFC Sao Paulo Under the Radar: Livia Renata Souza

UFC, Getty Images (Getty Images)

Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent, who shows the potential for growth in their division, but isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.

Name: Livia Renata Souza

Record: 11-1 overall, UFC debut

Division: Strawweight

Team: Team Maximo / Atos Jiu Jitsu

Seldom do you see a potential Top 10 talent competing in the opening bout of an event, but that’s the situation this weekend as Livia Renata Souza makes her delayed UFC debut in Sao Paulo, Brazil against Alex Chambers.

As business has picked up in the strawweight ranks and new names have risen towards the top of the division, people seem to have forgotten about Souza, a former Invicta FC champion who went 4-1 in the all-female promotion with her only setback being a razor-thin split decision loss to Top 15 fixture Angela Hill.

Originally scheduled to debut back in February against Jessica Aguilar, Souza was forced to withdraw after suffering a hand injury, but she’s healed up and poised to step into the Octagon for the first time. And if it’s anything like her maiden voyage into the Invicta FC cage, people will be talking about Souza this weekend.

The 27-year-old Sao Paulo native won gold in her first bout in the Shannon Knapp-helmed promotion, catching Katja Kankaanpää in a triangle choke just past the midway point of the fourth round. It was her eighth straight victory and if anyone questioned whether she was really the best in the division, Souza went out and absolutely blasted DeAnna Bennett in 90 seconds in her first title defense to silence any doubters.

After falling to Hill in a fight that was scored 48-47 across the board, with two judges seeing it for “Overkill,” Souza picked up victories over former atomweight champ Ayaka Hamasaki and recent strawweight title challenger Janaisa Morandin, pushing her record to 11-1 and earning a promotion to the biggest stage in the sport.

Here’s the thing to remember with Souza: she won Invicta FC gold at age 24 in her eighth professional appearance.

Now 27 and with a little more seasoning and a little greater understanding of how to play to her strengths in the cage, it isn’t inconceivable that she rolls into the UFC and works her way into the thick of the title chase with a couple of strong outings.

As much as strawweight has been abuzz in recent weeks with the emergence of Tatiana Suarez and Jessica Andrade catching Karolina Kowalkiewicz with a one-hitter-quitter in Dallas, the division remains somewhat top-heavy.

Along with champion Rose Namajunas, the Top 6 in the division — Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Andrade, Claudia Gadelha, Suarez, Kowalkiewicz, and Tecia Torres — have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, while established veterans Michelle Waterson, Carla Esparza and Felice Herrig represent another tier in that collective.

After that, it’s wide open and given the way she performed under the Invicta FC banner, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to favor Souza over anyone ranked outside the Top 10 and give her a reasonable chance to hang with the trio of veterans taking up residence just below the upper echelon, either.

Her portfolio in Invicta FC highlights is what makes Souza such an intriguing addition to the UFC roster. She’s an aggressive fighter who can finish on the feet or on the ground and is going to come forward at all times. Her submission game is on point and the finishes of Bennett and Hamasaki prove she can crack as well. Plus, she carries herself with an unapologetic confidence that is endearing to fans and can be unsettling for opponents.

While her originally scheduled bout with Aguilar would have been more instructive in terms of figuring out where Souza falls in the divisional hierarchy right out of the gate, Saturday’s bout with Chambers should be a greater showcase for the debuting Brazilian.

A cast member on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, Chambers has been limited to just three appearances in the last three years, scoring a victory over Kailin Curran before losing to Paige VanZant and Nadia Kassem. The 39-year-old Australian is a tough out who could push Souza if she isn’t sharp. But she’s heading to Sao Paulo to face an opponent a dozen years her junior riding a two-fight winning streak and making her UFC debut on her home turf.

So, how do you think this one is going to go?

Souza hasn’t fought since last August, so she might need to shake off a little rust in this one, but if she’s honed in and firing on all cylinders, “Livinha” has the skills to start the night off with a bang and instantly become someone who becomes a factor in the 115-pound ranks going forward.

She’s not the elite, championship-caliber prospect that Suarez is — but few fighters are. However, an extended residency in the middle of the Top 10 with a handful of wild, entertaining fights against the most established and experienced names in the division isn’t out of the question.

And that sounds like a fighter we should want to pay more attention to, starting this weekend.

Past Installments of Under the Radar:

Bellator 205: Adam Borics