Jack Hermansson vs. Jared Cannonier headlines UFC Copenhagen this September 28, 2019 at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark.
One sentence summary
David: Are we there yet? Middleweight contenders addition
Phil: Gorilla vs joker in Detective Comics #234
Record: Jack Hermansson 20-4 | Jared Cannonier 12-4
Odds: Jack Hermansson -250 | Jared Cannonier +230
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: We’re so used to the utter lack of anything resembling a hierarchy of prospects being intelligently filtered through the ranks ala a legitimate prospect farm — that complete unknowns can suddenly find themselves in high profile fights, or appear to come out of the matchmaking abyss. It’s fun, like Hermansson. But Hermansson deserves better. I had completely forgotten his UFC arc until now. Luckily he’s in a position where any further upward movement will be impossible to forget.
Phil: Jack Hermansson was one of those fighters who gets the label “dark horse” without anyone really having the confidence that he was going to justify that by becoming a contender. He put together decent, workmanlike wins over decent, workmanlike competition and then collapsed against fighters like Thiago Santos and Cezar Ferreira. Then he put together an increasingly impressive run of performances, culminating in his courageous win over Jacare Souza. He’s a lot of fun- an articulate, confident fighter with a unique style which he’s built from the ground up, and he’s in a division which is fairly wide open at the moment. I’m here for it.
David: Cannonier is a dude who fell out of a time capsule, in some ways. While his skills are modern, his ability to execute feels outdated: he lacks some things, and not others, but power is the great equalizer for the man who is skeptical of fighters sponsored by fast food. Like Hermansson, Cannonier’s development happened de novo. In the blink of an eye, he went from heavyweight to middleweight, and somehow benefited as a result. Unlike most fighters who move down in weight, Cannonier didn’t seem motivated by picking on little guys: as if the secret to physicality is being the bigger guy. Instead his wife helped get him a strict diet to simply be healthier. It wasn’t Jenny Craig, but his transformation came from within.
Phil: Jared Cannonier is an anomaly. Who goes down in weight (from heavyweight to middleweight, no less) at the higher weight classes and actually does better? No-one, I tell you. No-one. Seriously. Try and think of someone. Every weight class spanning fighter up at the big and bad divisions did at least as well at heavyweight as he did at LHW, even Couture. As such, it becomes increasingly hard to tell exactly how good the Killa Gorilla is. What you can say is that Cannonier did a good job of steadily working his way down to this weight class, and that his skills have come along at a similar clip. He’s not young at 35, but he’s violent and appealingly weird. With all the thanking of the cheezus or Allah after fights, having someone thanking Yehovah is something of a refreshing change.
What’s at stake?
David: I’m not really sure. It’s kind of rare for fights to get to this point to begin with — two solid prospects with little name value. So it’ll be interesting to see where the winner goes from here. Like anything else in Dana’s world, it’s all about the aesthetic of violence. A decision win won’t move the needle, but a counter spinning backfist? You bet.
Phil: Middleweight is wide open at the moment. Whittaker-Adesanya is just around the corner, and while I don’t quite think the winner of this fight is next in line, they can definitely take on someone like Gastelum to cinch up a title shot.
Where do they want it?
David: I’m not even sure where to start with Hermansson’s game. It’s all kind of an oddity. One thing is certain: you’re not safe at any distance. Hermansson has this erratic, bouncy rhythm. There’s an aggressive first-step withe very move. Even inside the clinch, it feels like he’s running. Technically, there’s a lot to like. He has access to a lot of weapons. From the outside, he generates good pressure with his leg kicks. His punches aren’t much of a threat from range. It seems like Hermansson is content to kick and jab his way away from danger. But what I dig about his game is that he has some decent counterstrikes, and for whatever reason, the cheat codes hit once he’s in close. It’s difficult to know where Hermansson stands in terms of fight status. It’s hard to judge him on the scales of Maurice Smith justice. Just the same, his grappling could fall anywhere between Luke Rokchold-level acumen, or Joe Stevenson-level efficient awkwardness. I don’t credit his grappling to that guillotine attempt on Jacare, but Hermansson’s confidence will take him places.
Phil: Hermansson is an all the way out or all the way in fighter, in the way that tall men often are. In a division normally characterized by power punching, he’s an active and high-volume jabber. I’ve referred to him as MegaNeil UltraMagny before, and a lot of the elements of his game are similar in construction to the welterweight stalwart: a jab which is more to prod, poke, discourage and set up for the right hand than it is made to sting, a powerful clinch and takedown game, and a shocking degree of effectiveness from top position. Where he pulls away from a fighter like Magny is in his depth everywhere: whereas Magny simply collapses in the mid range before he can grab up the clinch, Hermansson has gradually evolved his dirty boxing into short, tight combos inside the spaces when a tall fighter is normally looking to grab hold or disengage. His head movement and footwork is decent, if not spectacular, and his ground game not only boasts brutal ground and pound, but an array of weird choke submissions and a back mount series which is perhaps the most devastating I’ve seen outside of Luke Rockhold in MMA, and it might be even nastier than that. Hermansson’s knack for lacing shots underneath the armpits and behind the ears (a trick which perfectly fits his frame) demonstrates how thoughtfully he’s constructed his approach. On the downside, Hermansson doesn’t appear to be a stellar athlete. He’s well-trained and tough, but it’s notable that his worst performances have come against opponents who have simply been too fast for him.
David: Cannonier’s skills are so paired-down that I think his limits get mistaken for inefficiencies. Yes, he has big power. But he has a way of fighting bigger than he is (as if that were possible) by keeping a steady, stout stance. I think this is also, peripherally, what makes his wrestling so bad. He’s such a flat-footed fighter, and his mindset is to be stance-ready, that he has zero pre-movement or positioning that would benefit a counterattack against a double leg. Even a basic sprawl isn’t a part of his wheelhouse. I would never argue that it’s intentional or part of his general gameplan; although it is weird that such a big guy would lack balance and gravity. But I think he’s so singularly focused on hammering the opponent’s legs, and finding opportunities to crack right hands. His movement isn’t good, but I like the way Cannonier takes lowkey steps to close the distance. He does it with some swagger, feints, stance switches, and shoulder movement. His movement is like the Muller-Lyer illusion. The distance hasn’t really changed, but it’s hard to tell when your lights are out. The other benefit Cannonier has to his heavy leather game is the fact that he can always just pop right back up.
Phil: Jared Cannonier has come a long way from his start as a formless heavyweight brawler. I will admit, I used to shout at my screen whenever he talked about moving down to middleweight: Stay at 205! The fighters there are really bad! But he’s proved how much I know, with two impressive wins down at middleweight, albeit over somewhat unreliable fighters. Why the UFC brass saw fit to sacrifice Anderson Silva to Cannonier I will never know. Regardless, like Khalil Rountree and Marc Diakiese earlier on the card, Cannonier has figured out a way of leveraging extreme athleticism, and it is: kick the other guy in the leg. If a fighter is huge and powerful and quick, just punting out the other person’s leg often forces them to try and counter the kick (which leaves them exchanging with the more powerful puncher) or to try and escape, which often gets their leg kicked out as they move away. The main thing which made Cannonier’s move down to middleweight a smart one was that it alleviated his major weakness: his wrestling. I’m a big fan of the MMA Lab, but I’m not necessarily all that sure that high-end wrestling is something that they train into a lot of their fighters. Putting Cannonier at a size and physicality parity with his opponents has meant that (for now at least) the days of him being stranded under Glover Teixeira are over. And it’s also worth noting that while his ground game isn’t his strong suit, he still has a decent and active guard. Being able to just survive under Teixeira for three rounds is no mean feat.
Insight from past fights
David: At this point, I think the difference here is that Cannonier hasn’t really shown an ability to outright blitz an opponent. His finishes have come from timing and precision. A guy like Hermansson, you’re gonna need to spread shot.
Phil: This is a strange one. On the one hand, a fighter who kicked away at Hermansson’s leg and body and threw bursts of violence at him in Thiago Santos polished him off fairly unceremoniously. On the other, a long and actively jabbing European managed to make Cannonier look utterly inert when he fought Jan Blachowicz.
David: Only if Cannonier suddenly gets that fast food sponsor he never asked for.
Phil: Cannonier is travelling further, and I guess the Copenhagen locals will come out for Hermansson, but after their last bouts I don’t think either of these men will be suffering big fight nerves.
David: It’s pretty simple for me. Cannonier doesn’t have the speed to attack Hermansson with multiple strikes — the most effective way to cut through his defense, since he’s average defensively, but quick to reset — and certainly doesn’t have the takedown defense to reliably avoid getting taken to the ground where Hermansson can choke from multiple angles, and can do so via improvisation. Jack Hermansson by RNC, round 2.
Phil: I would not be surprised at all to see Cannonier just bust up Hermansson with leg kicks and combination punching. I still don’t think Hermansson is a particularly good defensive fighter, and while Souza posed some of the problems that Cannonier does, he’s also particularly plodding nowadays. That being said, Cannonier’s tendency to burst back to his feet may play poorly with Hermansson’s choke series, I still don’t trust his takedown defense overall, and Hermansson convinced me of his toughness when he pulled back from a tough round in the Jacare bout. Jack Hermansson by submission, round 3.