If you weren't a fan of the heavies before, it looks like you'd better start getting on board, because you're going to be seeing a lot more of them in the near future. What was once a division bordering on extinction with fewer than 30 fighters to its name has now ballooned into 44 athletes fighting at 206+ lbs. The latest additions to that roster are a pair of Americans who will face off against one another at UFC Salt Lake on August 6th. Chase Sherman vs. Justin Ledet was recently made official by the promotion, so...
Who is Chase Sherman?
The 26-year-old "Vanilla Gorilla" is a career heavyweight fighting out of Alan Belcher's MMA in D'iberville, Mississippi. Obviously he's working alongside the former UFC middleweight, but it's not yet an otherwise notable camp. Sherman's run out to a 9-1 record to start his career, with his only loss coming to recent light heavyweight signing (and current UFC middleweight) Alex Nicholson. His level of competition is pretty underwhelming outside of the Nicholson loss, but he did get a big win with his recent step up, defeating former UFC heavyweight Jack May back at Titan FC 38. Win or lose, Sherman has never seen the second round in his MMA career. Outside of MMA Sherman played college football at the NCAA DII level for Delta State University.
What you should expect:
Sherman is about exactly what you'd expect given his mix of athletic background and combat sports training. As a former college football player he's got the natural size and gifts of a lineman, but coming out of Belcher's gym without a wealth of combat sports experience, he's essentially a bit of a wooden striker with fast hands. The majority of what Sherman is looking to do in the cage is boxing. He'll throw the occasional kick, but mostly he wants to find his way into the pocket and throw hands. When he's able to do so, he's fairly hittable as he often keeps his head up and doesn't move much when trading strikes, but because he's tended to be the faster, more athletic fighter in many of his bouts, it hasn't cost him often.
When he's not striking, Sherman has a decent bodylock/trip takedown game that could make really good use of his speed and power. He's got some pop in his shots from top control, but isn't yet a controlling force there. He'll definitely need to round out his game for the UFC.
To get us better acquainted, here's his recent fight, from March of 2016, against Sammy Collingwood:
Who is Justin Ledet?
If Sherman is a career heavy, "El Blanco" is more a fighter that has been slowly building his way into the division. Despite starting his career at 205, the 6'4" fighter out of Silva's Boxing in Houston, Texas has weighed in over 230 for his last two fights and looks as though he'll be firmly in the division for his UFC debut. Ledet will make his way to the UFC with a 6-0 unbeaten record, blighted only by a no-contest in his last fight. All his bouts have ended via stoppage, with four wins by submission and two by TKO. He doesn't have a name win to his record yet, but hasn't fought the worst opposition either, with wins over reasonably experienced regional talents and a couple cans sprinkled in. Outside of MMA, Ledet has a fair bit of experience as a pro boxer. He's 5-0 in the ring so far and was taking fights as recently as late 2015.
What you should expect:
I guess the real answer here is: I don't know. Back in 2012, the light heavyweight version of Ledet as a scrappy boxing focused fighter who threw quick, slapping hooks, and followed up with powerful knees in the clinch. He didn't have the best takedown defense in the game, but was good at fighting his way through scrambles and could find a few tricky submissions off his back. What the 2016 fighter looks like? Other than an eye-poke highlight, I'm not sure. He spent the interim few years boxing and moving up in weight, and I'm a little concerned that that may have taken some of the athletic spring out of his step. If he's a more flatfooted puncher now, that may cause trouble if his takedown defense hasn't improved enough to stay upright consistently.
What this means for their debut:
This is really a tough one to figure out. Sherman is almost certainly the more athletic fighter, but his technical striking is also likely to be less sharp than Ledet's by a fair distance. And while Sherman has shown some takedown work and ground striking, he's hardly the deepest technical fighter there. Essentially this is going to be a question of whether Sherman's more well rounded MMA game and better athletic gifts are enough to get past a fighter with a fewer skills but more technique in those skill sets. My gut says Sherman wins out just on athleticism, but at heavyweight that's never much of a sure thing. This is more of a coin-flip than any kind of definitive advantage.