One of Middleweight’s nastiest grapplers, Jack Hermansson, will take on jiu-jitsu black belt, Marvin Vettori, this Saturday (Dec. 5, 2020) at UFC Vegas 16 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
What’s the best way to rebound from an upset knockout loss? It’s hard to answer with absolute certainty, but a first-round heel hook after taking zero damage against a recent title challenger is a solid answer. Such is Hermansson’s situation, as “The Joker” is back in the win column and looking to march back towards the title. Credit to the Swede, he’s handled all the madness in the last few weeks admirably, accepting any challenge thrown in his direction. He’s landed on a tough and well-rounded foe, and we’ll have to wait and see if his courage pays off or backfires.
Let’s take a closer look at Hermansson’s skill set:
Hermansson does not strike like a Middleweight. He moves more like a Dominick Cruz fan, bouncing back-and-forth and looking to confound his opponent with false starts and feints.
It’s important to note that Cruz’s style requires a lot of prerequisites 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 largely assumes the user is the better athlete: faster, stronger, and better conditioned — it’s very physically demanding. Luckily, Hermansson fulfills this demand quite well: the Swede is quick, strong in the clinch, and has seriously excellent conditioning. However, against notably fast-twitch athletes like Thiago Santos and Jared Cannonier, everything fell apart. Neither of these men were particularly afraid of Hermansson’s punches, and as a result, they did not react to his feints. Instead, they actively chased him down, and Hermansson’s wrestling was not able to compensate.
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.
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 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 — 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.
Hermansson’s debut was something of an exception, as 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 down Askham, 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 reactionary 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 has finished six foes via tapout, including his previous three stoppage wins.
Hermansson’s submissions over Gerald Meerschaert and David Branch — black belts both! — came via arm-across guillotine, a front choke variation that squeezes the neck in similar fashion to the d’arce choke. Hermansson isolates his opponent’s neck and one arm in a front headlock before cutting around towards the back mount. In the process, this puts both the trapped head and arm on one side of his body. Often, Hermansson will use his hip to help push the trapped arm further into the neck. Once he’s confident in his grip, Hermansson will pull guard and squeeze, cutting off one side of the neck directly and the other with his opponent’s own arm (GIF).
Hermansson was crazy enough to attempt the choke against “Jacare,” and he nearly landed the submission, a testament to both his skill and confidence.
Against Kelvin Gastelum, Hermansson pulled a win out of nowhere via heel hook. Gastelum caught a kick and took him down — as mentioned, a somewhat reoccurring problem for the Swede — but Hermansson was unbothered. As Gastelum stood over him, Hermansson reaped the knee with his outside leg, meaning he drove his leg across Gastelum’s thigh and forced the knee to buckle.
Often in MMA, the top fighter is then able to pull away, which can still result in a sweep or stand up. However, Hermansson managed to use his left leg to hook behind Gastelum’s far knee, granting him better control over the lower body. In fact, that leg tripped Gastelum as the former title challenger tried to pull away, which makes Gastelum less able to pull away. All the while, Hermansson was cranking on the heel — and by extension, the knee — which soon forced his foe to submit (GIF).
Aside from those finishes, 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.
It is worth-mentioning that Hermansson does not historically like being put on his back. Gastelum finish aside, Cezar Ferreira submitted him with an arm triangle fairly quickly after taking him down, and Leites nearly locked up a couple submissions as well.
Hermansson has skills everywhere backed by a unique style and solid athleticism. He’s in the prime of his career at 32 years old, so if “The Joker” is to make a run at the belt, there’s no time like the present!
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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.