Swedish finisher, Jack Hermansson, will square off with decorated grappler, Ronaldo Souza, this Saturday (April 27, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 3 from inside BB&T Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Hermansson debuted in the Octagon in 2016, immediately setting himself aside as a fighter to watch by battering Scott Askham for the better part of three rounds. He actually lost his next fight to a dangerous black belt in Cezar Ferreira, but Hermansson turned things around by recommitting to the takedown and top game, which Hermansson argues is the best in the division. Not to spoil the rest of the article, but there’s definitely some solid supporting evidence for Hermansson’s argument. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set ahead of the biggest fight of his career.
It’s not necessarily a negative trait, but Hermansson’s kickboxing is herky-jerky as hell. The Swede is clearly a fan of Dominick Cruz, as he emulates his strategy of false starts and fancy footwork to hide kicks, set up takedowns, and surprise with power punches.
It’s important to note off the bat the Cruz’s style requires a lot of prerequisites in order to work. First and foremost, that awkward, movement heavy style assumes the fighter dancing around is the better wrestler — otherwise he’s in big trouble when a foe times his shot or catches one of those running kicks. Hermansson is a pretty strong defensive wrestler, but he’s not ironclad, and getting taken down off kicks or lunges has been a problem in the past.
Secondly, Cruz-type kickboxing assumes the user is the better athlete: faster, stronger, and better conditioned (see the Cody Garbrandt fight for what happens if the foe is more athletic). Luckily, Hermansson fulfills this demand quite well: the Swede is quick, strong in the clinch, and has seriously excellent conditioning. All the same, he did meet a superior athlete in Thiago Santos once before, and things did fall apart quickly.
Lastly, stance-switches and dancing is all pretty useless without some solid fundamental boxing in place. Again, Hermansson lives up to the need fairly well. Hermansson has a sharp jab that he’ll occasionally double up on, mix to the body, and follow with the cross. Hermansson is not one to sit in the pocket for long, but when attacking he does a nice job of mixing up his straight shots to find a hole, either by going body-head or alternating the angle on his right a touch.
It’s a bit exaggerated, but Hermansson does pull back nicely after landing, and some unnecessary extra movement is certainly preferable to waiting around to eat a counter.
A big part of Hermansson’s game is using his speed and false starts to land kicks at range. Hermansson is constantly pretending to run at his opponent, only to pull back at the last second and escape back to a safe distance. Hermansson doesn’t wait long to instead began unloading leg kicks — inside and out — from these entrances, running into the kick and trying to blast his opponent’s legs from beneath him. Another little trick Hermansson will use is to take a big step back into Southpaw, suddenly allowing him to kick the inside leg or liver from a new angle. When combined with a false rush forward, this can prove very effective.
These false starts are intended to either freeze his opponent up — in which case a kick or maybe double jab-cross is heading towards his foe next — or create a big reaction. If Hermansson’s foe is frustrated by his movement and getting his thigh/calf chopped, he’s more likely to drop his weight down and try to land an obvious counter punch. Usually, this is how Hermansson sets up his takedown.
Interestingly, Hermansson’s debut was the longest kickboxing fight in his UFC career, and he found much of his success in the clinch. That strategy was more straight forward: Hermansson barreled forward behind the jab and cross, looking to fall into the clinch. Once there, an assortment of elbows and knees broke Askham down, allowing Hermansson to occasionally step back and unleash a combination.
Hermansson began his combat sports training as a wrestler in his youth, and that skill set has transitioned well into the cage.
The aforementioned reaction shot has proven a very effective weapon for Hermansson. There’s no easier time to blast an opponent off his feet than as he’s mid-punch, and that false start is a very effective tool for drawing power punches. If timed right, a quick double leg on a fighter in a kickboxing stance is easily finished.
More recently, Hermansson has been landing takedowns from the clinch. Against David Branch, Hermansson hit a very slick foot sweep, twisting Branch with his torso as his foot blocked Branch’s own leg from resetting. In the fight prior with Gerald Meerschaert, Hermansson attempted that same foot sweep, but Meerschaert was hip to the throw and stepped over the blocking foot. In the attempt, however, Hermansson dug his arms deeper to secure a body lock, powering “GM3” to the mat moments later.
In his back-and-forth battle with Thales Leites, Hermansson showed the value of wrestling fundamentals. Leites is very much a jiu-jitsu fighter, willing to put himself in risky positions to finish the shot or wrestle from his knees (never ideal). Hermansson countered these traits well, either utilizing the whizzer to apply hard pressure towards the weak side or simply clubbing Leites’ head down as he wrestled from poor posture.
Finally, we arrive at Hermansson’s top game, which is pretty brutal. Like most great ground strikers nowadays, Hermansson’s general strategy is to secure the two-on-one hold on his opponent’s wrist as his foe goes to stand. That position is dominant in itself, but Hermansson really focuses on the follow up: maintaining that hold as he climbs into mount, forcing his foe to give up the back from an already somewhat flattened posture.
Flattened out back mount is the worst position in mixed martial arts (MMA). It’s even more deadly when the wrist is trapped, as Hermansson can let go with one of his arms to punch without losing position. So long as hip pressure is maintained and one hand controls the wrist, the trapped fighter is still pretty stuck.
From a less technical standpoint, Hermansson is just damn good at doing damage from top position. He picks his shots well, mixing elbows and hooks around or under the guard to land cleanly on the chin and stun his opponents. All the while, Hermansson maintains heavy hip pressure, which is quite difficult.
The GIF below isn’t exactly the techniques described, but it’s a good display of Hermansson’s unusually accurate and powerful ground striking.
Aside from the devastating ground striking, slick submissions make up the other half of Hermansson’s top game. He’s finished five foes via tapout, including his last two wins over jiu-jitsu black belts Branch and Meerschaert.
In this week’s technique highlight, we break down the arm-across guillotine, the submisison used in both both fights.
Aside from that nifty choke, the other standout aspect of Hermansson’s grappling is his guard passing. When faced with full guard, Hermansson often advances by looking to throw his hips over his opponent’s defense, trusting his strong hips and balance to float over any butterfly hooks.
Hermansson pursues the mount more aggressively than most. A common path to mount for the Swede is the reverse side control, in which the top grappler faces his opponent’s feet while keeping his weight on the opponent’s chest. From this position, Hermansson can either grab his foot with his hand and pull his leg across to mount or simply take a wide step into the dominant position. Once landing in mount, Hermansson will immediately drop his hips to avoid being rolled.
Below is Eddie Bravo demonstrating the reverse side control position and pulling his own foot sneakily into mount.
It is worth-mentioning that Hermansson does not like being put on his back. Ferreira submitted him with an arm triangle fairly quickly after taking him down, and Leites nearly locked up a couple submissions as well. Against “Jacare,” this could prove to be a major problem.
Hermansson is a very promising Middleweight, winner of three-straight with a well-rounded skill set. He’s about to take a massive step up in competition though and against a difficult style match up. If Hermansson can win here, he’s an instant title contender and has more than proven himself one of the elite.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.