LAS VEGAS — The difference between winning and losing at the highest level of professional sport is minute. Sometimes, it’s just a minor mistake that leads to a defeat. Other times, it’s bad luck.
But Jack Hermansson understands this, which is why he isn’t frustrated by his position heading into the main event of UFC Vegas 47 against seventh-ranked middleweight Sean Strickland on Saturday at Apex.
Hermansson, ranked sixth, is 2-2 in his last four bouts, and to some, the bloom seems to have fallen off the rose. He won six out of seven at one point in his tenure, defeating solid opposition like Thales Leites, Gerald Meerschaert, David Branch and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
He looked like a title challenger for certain and perhaps even a champion. Now, he’s 2-2 in his last four, with losses to Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori and wins over Kelvin Gastelum and Edmen Shahbazyan, and few are talking about him as a potential champion.
Hermansson, though, is not among them. He recognizes that in MMA at the top level, things can change quickly.
“Every time out, you are fighting the absolute best fighters in the world, and the difference between everyone is not very much,” he told Yahoo Sports.”You just have to understand and accept that. But I like where I am at this time. If I have a good win in this fight, well, I’m not that far away again. You can’t dwell on any loss too much, just like it’s not a great idea to think you’re the man as a result of any win. I know I am putting in the work and I’m getting better all the time, and that’s what is really important.”
The bout is an intriguing match of personalities, styles and varying approaches. Strickland is outrageous, aggressive and outspoken. Hermansson is thoughtful, detailed and careful.
Hermansson said he’s impressed by Strickland, particularly since he has moved to middleweight and has gone unbeaten. He’s coming off a one-sided victory over Uriah Hall.
Strickland made a name for himself recently when he said he frequently fantasized about killing someone in the ring. He spoke to Yahoo Sports about having a loaded gun on his nightstand when he sleeps and hoping someone breaks into his home so he could use it.
Hermansson sighs at such talk. He’s from Norway, where MMA has yet to be legalized. Strickland’s comments don’t help the push to legalize the sport in his native country, but beyond that, Hermansson doesn’t take it too seriously. He doesn’t feel like he’s going to be Strickland’s victim.
“He’s a great fighter with a lot of skill and he can talk really well, too, and get attention,” Hermansson said. “Those comments obviously got a lot of people talking, because it’s so out of the ordinary. You don’t hear fighters talking that way pretty much ever. But it’s gotten him attention and put a spotlight on him. Good for him, I guess, but it’s not great for the sport because people take that seriously and it doesn’t help, for instance, in getting MMA legalized in my country.”
No one has died in the Octagon or as a result of fight-related injuries in the 28-year-plus history of the UFC. There have been a handful of deaths in MMA over the years, but it’s a very small percentage compared to boxing, and that’s largely because there are other means of attack other than punching someone repeatedly in the head.
For Hermansson, it’s a non-issue other than the impact it has on legalization efforts and on MMA’s ability to become more mainstream.
He believes with an impressive win over Strickland, who is a -220 favorite at BetMGM, he’ll be quickly in the title mix. That’s particularly true if Derek “Blonde” Brunson defeats Cannonier next week at UFC 271 in Houston.
Brunson has already fought champion Israel Adesanya and was knocked out. Hermansson believes if he and Brunson win, he’ll leapfrog Brunson and be closer to a title shot.
Hermansson tries not to think ahead too much, though, because he knows what Strickland is capable of doing. One mistake at the wrong time and it could be over.
The fighters are so evenly matched that one lapse in concentration, one minor mistake, could make all the difference.
“I want to fight my fight, execute the plan and get it over with as soon as I can,” said Hermansson, who is +180 on Friday at BetMGM. “I want to keep my focus on what I have to do and hopefully, it pays off with a great performance.”