I was on the verge of asking 47-fight veteran Gerald Meerschaert how it felt to see a fellow long-timer in the sport, Glover Teixeira, win a UFC title at the age of 42, before I caught myself and realized that “GM3” is only 33 and about to hit 34 when his Saturday bout against Dustin Stoltzfus takes place in Las Vegas.
“I don't take that for granted,” Meerschaert said of being in that perfect zone where he more experience than 90 percent of his opponents but is still young enough to reap the rewards of that experience. “It's an interesting feeling, though. Like you said, I'm only 33 right now, so I'm technically kind of in that prime area. But the beautiful thing about MMA is that there's so much technical stuff where you can legitimately reach your competitive prime later in life, which is definitely what I feel like I'm doing.
"On the same hand, I'm young, but I've got a lot of fights, and it's different now being in this position because I can see that I'm closer to the end than I am to the beginning. I've been fighting for 14 years now, and I definitely don't have 14 years left, but I'm trying to make the most of it and really enjoy it as much as I can because I can see the end of the tunnel from where I'm at and I know that with every fight now I gotta make sure I step it up and stay on my Ps and Qs.”
The Wisconsin native has been stepping it up and staying on his Ps and Qs in 2021, a year that could end up being his best since joining the UFC roster in 2016 thanks to back-to-back Performance of the Night finishes of Bartosz Fabinski and Makhmud Muradov.
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“This year has been really good to me,” he said. “I've probably had two of the better performances of my career. I thought I was a lot heavier favorite, too, in that first comeback fight (against Fabinski) than a lot of people are making it sound like I was. That shouldn't be that surprising to me because I'm usually the underdog anyway (Laughs), but that was a pretty good one. I did more or less exactly what I said and thought I was gonna do. And that second one (against Muradov), more or less the same thing.
"Maybe it could have been a little bit 'cleaner' a victory, but I fought a really, really tough guy who was on a hot streak and I ended up coming away with a decisive win. And I got a third one set up in the same year, and I think having that big layoff after dropping two in a row and just letting my mind and my body heal probably helped a lot in setting me up to have one of the best years of my fighting career so far.”
In 2020, Meerschaert got off to a fast start with a victory over Deron Winn, but consecutive knockout defeats at the hands of Ian Heinisch and Khamzat Chimaev cut that momentum off quickly. And though seven months away from the Octagon isn’t the longest break anyone has had, it was enough for Meerschaert to reset and for him and his wife Kerrielle to welcome their son Bronx into the world. Yeah, 2021 has not been bad at all for the best saxophone player in the UFC.
About the only negative thus far is that he had to train while the rest of the world enjoyed Thanksgiving and the holiday treats that are a no-no for someone who has to step on a scale and make weight for work. Then again, he’s used to that.
“It seems like I always fight either just before or right around the holidays,” he said. “Last year was the first time in a while that I didn't. For some reason, local shows in Wisconsin always do shows the day before or after Thanksgiving. I think it has something to do with our deer hunting season - it either just kicks off or ends right around then. So all these years, I fight the day after, and I'm like, really, we couldn't fight a couple days earlier. But I think this is the first time I fought on the actual day of my birthday, and my birthday's exactly a week before Christmas, so I'll at least get to have Christmas and New Year's and all that stuff, so I'm not mad about that.”
Well, if it’s any consolation, Meerschaert is 6-1 fighting in November, December and the early part of January, so that (literal) hunger has served him well. That, and the talent that has earned him 33 pro wins (eight in the UFC), with 31 victories ending by submission or knockout. That’s an impressive stat, and one that comes from being a fighter willing to take the risks necessary to finish an opponent.
“Honestly, it's just my overall style,” he said. “I don't feel like I've won if I don't get the finish. It's good we have a point system; Sometimes you go out there and you really try to get a guy and you just can't. But for me, the finality of it, there has to be a clear winner, so from bell to bell, for better or worse, I try not to take too many really, really bad risks, but I'm doing everything I can to get in a position to finish the fight.
"I'm not trying to win on points or stay on the outside. Even if there's something I need to 'stay away from' in a given fight, it just means I stay away from that area and try to finish it in a different area. I'm trying to put myself in the best position possible to put the guy away.”
So decisions don’t count then?
“I wouldn't say decisions don't count, but at least for me in the UFC, they don't tend to go my way (Laughs), so I try to stay away from them as much as possible.”
That attitude, his saxophone playing, and his entertaining posts on social media have made Meerschaert a fan favorite for all the right reasons.
“It feels pretty good,” he said of his popularity. “I have noticed I've got a small following of people that are interested to see my fights and I think, more than anything else, everybody appreciates authenticity. I'm not trying to be something I'm not.”
That’s why he’s got a growing fan base, one that will get even bigger should he keep winning and insert himself in the middleweight title race. And yeah, that’s the goal, but don’t think for a second that the belt will change him.
“A lot of guys fantasize about getting the title and they think about all the stuff that comes with it,” Meerschaert said. “Or maybe they think that they're gonna have a lot of fun getting in front of the mic and being in the public eye, but actually, they either don't know how to handle it or they actually don't enjoy it.
"(Middleweight champ Israel) Adesanya is a perfect example of a guy who is quick-witted and seems to genuinely enjoy doing what he's doing. But that's why there's only a couple guys like him. Most people don't enjoy that, and they still feel compelled to play this part. That's definitely the goal for me, to go get the belt and stuff like that, but it's going to be interesting to see people's reaction, because I'm just myself all the time. I'm a lot more low-key, so it might not be as interesting for people because I'm not gonna sit here and talk s**t on Twitter that much because I just don't care. I've got stuff to do.”