The UFC return to ESPN this weekend with a card from the Wells Vargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania headlined by a mouth-watering clash between lightweights, Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje. Outside of the main event, there are a host of other bouts with notable names including the evenings co-headliner, which features one of Europe’s biggest prospects, Jack Hermansson, as he takes on #11 ranked middleweight, David Branch.
In his last fight back in December, Hermansson (18-4) defeated Gerald Meerschaert by submission in the very first round. The man known as ‘The Joker’ totally dominated his opponent on the ground and used some really quick passing to advance position effortlessly. Hermansson was as confident as every going into the fight but it didn’t go exactly as he thought it would.
“I think I expected a longer and tougher fight but at the same time I am not surprised when I get a early finish and I am not surprised when I get a late one,” said Hermansson. “As a fighter you are ready for whatever happens but I am always confident and I know that I have the skills to be able to defeat anyone in the first round if I do the right things. I knew he was a good ground fighter but I also know that I am extremely hard to be underneath.”
In that fight, Meerschaert spent the majority of the bout on the bottom so when he finally made his way to his feet, it was to the surprise of many that he immediately pulled guard for a guillotine attempt. However, the decision Meerschaert made to risk falling back straight away into the same position didn’t catch Hermansson off guard.
“That was not a surprise. He is a very opportunistic grappler and that is how he wins fights,” explained Hermansson. “He takes chances and gets rewarded for it but not this time.”
This Saturday night will see Hermansson make the walk to the octagon for the eighth time and he will be looking to improve his current 5-2 record in the world’s leading MMA promotion. The middleweight, who is from Sweden, boasts an impressive 83% finishing rate in his professional career which Hermansson largely puts down to his top game and ground and pound skills. The former Cage Warriors middleweight champion believes that when it comes down to these two areas, no fighter in the division is better than him.
“I think that is true and it is a active choice. I have put a lot of time and thinking into how to be a good top fighter as I realised that naturally the top position is the position where you are the least vulnerable so that is the position I want to be in,” Hermansson stated. “I have picked up a lot of tips and tricks during the years and mixed it with my own game as well as working a lot on my grappling fundamentals.”
After winning in December, the Swede called out Elias Theodorou and Brad Tavares who are both above him in the UFC rankings. Although the UFC didn’t book either of those two names, they did present Hermansson with the option to fight former two weight WSOF champion, David Branch. Some would argue that Branch (22-5) is a bigger name than the other middleweights Hermansson called out and ‘The Joker’ was very happy when the match up came to fruition. He acknowledged that Branch was ‘in the mix’ towards the top of the division and is intrigued when thinking about how the contest may go.
“I think Branch is an all-round good fighter. He is very experienced and is not a easy fight for anyone,” said Hermansson. “It is hard to predict but I will do my best to finish him in the first round.”
As seen previously in his career, Hermansson doesn’t shy away from telling matchmakers exactly what he wants after certain fights. So many fighters utter phrases such as, ‘I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me’ and these fighters often take a much longer time to reach the top of the division than others who like to call their shots. Hermansson already knows who he wants to fight next with a victory in the co-main event on Saturday night.
“If I win, I would like to fight former champ Chris Weidman at UFC Stockholm on 1st June!” noted Hermansson. It is no surprise that he wants to fight in the place that he was born and that potential fight would bring a lot of eyeballs to the UFC’s return to Sweden.
Hermansson’s aims for the future don’t just end with who he would like to compete against next after Saturday night. He has carefully thought through his plans for the rest of the year and is aware of what he needs to do to continue climbing up the ranks in the middleweight division.
“My goals are to get in the top five this year. If the UFC are willing to give me the right fights I am not that far away,” explained Hermansson. “If I can get into the top five this year, I should be able to get a title fight next year. But that comes down to my performances. I need to not only win but do it with a statement in dominant fashion.”
UFC Fight Night: Barboza v Gaethje can be viewed on BT Sport 2 at 11pm on Saturday night.