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Fight Night 160: Hermansson is much better prepared to go the distance with Cannonier

September 26, 2019January 7th, 2022

THIS weekend Jack Hermansson and Jared Cannonier meet in the UFC’s surprisingly decent offering from Denmark. Hermansson has managed nine fights in the UFC’s middleweight division since his debut there in 2016, a veteran of Cage Warriors and Bellator as well.

Where Hermansson has improved slowly but surely and now seems on the cusp of UFC title contention, his opponent has exploded onto the middleweight scene out of nowhere. A former heavyweight, Cannonier reinvented himself two weightclasses down but retained his thunderous punch and is riding the best back-to-back wins over his career.

The Match Up

Jack Hermansson’s performance against Jacare Souza was remarkable, it was far from a flawless victory. Hermansson was regularly dinged with counter punches and especially when he squared up to throw in combination. Hermansson will often go to the shoulder roll but leave himself completely open to the left hook in the process, and retreat on straight lines, all of which might make him a mark for the shifting left hook that Cannonier loves to throw to both the head and the body.

But Hermansson’s composure against Jacare—a respectable banger—was the polar opposite of his showing against Thiago Santos. Hermansson seemed awed by Santos’ power and applied none of his feinting magic, backing up on straight lines and allowed Santos to simply charge in on him and knock him out.

Cannonier was a great hitter even up at heavyweight, and shows flashes of slicker striking smarts than Jacare, so it will be interesting to see if Hermansson can get to his jabs and feints with the same confidence. So often good technical strikers meet dangerous bangers and the feints become obviously fake, and the real attacks come few and far between, with a big gulp and gritting of teeth to telegraph them.

For Cannonier’s part, he has come down two weightclasses because at heavyweight and even light heavyweight he proved to be one hundred percent less effective once his opponent attempted a takedown. He would sting Glover Teixeira with jabs, and have Ion Cutelaba running for cover, but the moment that they ducked on his legs he would hit the mat and get stuck there. It wasn’t even a matter of conditioning—Cannonier actually seemed to keep a good pace at heavyweight and light heavyweight—it was just that he struggled so much technically. Cannonier basically won the Ion Cutelaba fight through Cutelaba tiring to the point where his wrestling became ineffective.

Two things have changed over the last couple of years for Cannonier. The first is that he has stopped working full time during his camps and travels down to Arizona to train at the MMA Lab with world class training partners and coaches. The second is that he has made a controlled and effective diet down to middleweight. He doesn’t seem to be killing himself to make weight, and once he gets in the ring he seems to still have a good degree of his former heavyweight strength as well as some smoother cage work to prop him up courtesy of the MMA Lab.

But Hermansson’s development has been incremental and has played out through a good number of fights in the deep and dangerous middleweight division. Cannonier’s career rebirth has come out of nowhere because he has had just two fights at middleweight and both have been rather unusual. Cannonier’s most recent victory came against the aged Anderson Silva, and while it is impressive to stop Silva on the feet regardless of his years, he was helped along by being able to open up with the low kicks that often got him taken down at heavyweight and light heavyweight.

Cannonier's confident kicking was probably helped along by the fact that Silva doesn’t generally duck in to take his opponents down. Even if Hermansson is winning on the feet he will duck in on takedowns regularly just to keep the opponent honest and he is the division’s most active ground and pounder from top position so one key question in this bout will be: can Cannonier get the kicks going?

Cannonier’s only other fight at middleweight was his impressive victory over Dave Branch, wherein he stuffed Branch’s takedown attempts and cracked him on the breaks, knocking Branch out in the second round. Branch is a good grappler but his approach was very straight forward: he wanted nothing of the striking and was simply diving into clinches with Cannonier and burning up his gas tank as he did so. Hermansson offers a far more measured fighter with confidence on the feet that means he is unlikely to exhaust himself chasing his first takedown attempt and will be happy to stick around through the rounds.

Finally it is worth noting that Hermansson worked five rounds in his last outing and did it at a blistering pace. Even though he wasn’t untouchable he was sharp and wily throughout. Cannonier might have surprisingly good conditioning at light heavyweight and heavyweight, but those divisions are not brimming with endurance talent. He has gone five rounds once, on the regional circuit in 2014, but since making his transition to middleweight he hasn’t gone past six minutes. While we mentioned that he doesn’t appear to be killing himself to make weight, we should know around the ten minute mark of this fight whether or not that is true. But then the selling point of Cannonier is that it might not even last that long.

The Rest of the Card 

Something rather peculiar happened with the co-main event of the UFC’s first trip to Denmark. The always exciting but somewhat flawed Gunnar Nelson was scheduled to face Thiago Alves. A great welterweight back in the day, Alve has failed to win two fights back-to-back since 2015 against middling competition. However, Alves pulled out of the bout with an injury and has since been replaced by the terrific Gilbert Burns.

Burns’ jiu jitsu is top of the food chain, having won the Mundials at black belt and medalled in ADCC. Nelson’s skill set in the cage has always been built around his own excellent submissions, slapped on top of some point karate style striking. Essentially Nelson will bounce around for a bit, enter with a right hand lead, and then move straight into a takedown attempt off it. If the takedowns work, he becomes incredibly dangerous all around.

If the takedowns don’t work, or the opponent simply gets back up, Nelson starts to look one note on the feet as well. Burns isn’t a masterful striker but he is a very solid hitter, with some good wrestling of his own. While Burns isn’t tailor made to ruin Nelson’s day like Rick Story or Leon Edwards, he has a good chance of causing trouble. If Nelson can put in a good showing against a grappler as skilled as Burns it will be a big feather in his cap.

Elsewhere on the card, Giga Chikadze makes his UFC debut. A quality kickboxer from a Kyokushin background, Chikadze has great success sneaking from his orthodox stance into a southpaw stance on the retreat and then slotting in a left kick to the liver. Chikadze meets Brandon Davis, who is fighting for the second time in five weeks after losing a close decision on the Shenzen card.

More importantly, Nicholas Dalby returns to the UFC to fight Alex Oliveira. Dalby, a Dane himself, was cut from the UFC perhaps a little prematurely in 2016 and went on to a streak of wins in Cage Warriors before his tremendous title fight with Ross Houston on Cage Warriors 106—notable for being the first fight this writer has ever seen that was waved off as a No Contest because the amount of blood on the mat was causing the fighters to lose their footing.

Sadly with Dalby returning to the UFC we miss out on the conclusion to that rivalry, but he is facing no slouch in his UFC return as Alex Oliveira is as dangerous as they come and will flagrantly foul his opponents in most of his fights as well. The last two fights worth tuning in for are Ion Cutelaba vs Khalil Rountree Jr., and Lando Vannata vs Mark Djiakese. Djiakese is a flashy counter striker where Vannata is an all out banger with some weird spinning kicks and an obnoxious side kick to the lead leg that comes in just lazily enough to make his opponents neglect to defend it.

Meanwhile Khalil Rountree looked like a new man after spending some time in Thailand focusing on traditional Muay Thai and came back using a beautiful switch kick to beat up Eryk Anders. Rountree meets Ion Cutelaba who normally streaks ahead in the first round with his enormous power and slick kicking game, then gasses out and is almost running from his opponent if it gets to the third round. Both promise some excitement and perhaps even a few laughs.