Jack Hermansson is hell-bent on fighting this Saturday, and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.
“I feel like a completely new fighter,” he says. “I feel stronger mentally. I’ve added those extra tools. I’m at my peak right now.”
Darren Till was his original dance partner scheduled for this main event. Then it was Kevin Holland. Now it’s Marvin Vettori. All three men are below the No. 4 middleweight in the rankings - some far below - so there’s very little to be gained and much to be lost here at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. And the most burning question I have for Hermansson is: why?
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Why after dominating five of your last six in impressive fashion to work your way into the upper echelon of one of the toughest divisions in the promotion are you willing to put it all on the line? Why not take a breather, spend the holidays with your family and come back when there’s a better risk-reward ratio?
“To be able to get a title shot, you need to stay relevant. You need to show yourself and your fans. You can’t just sit and hide and make people forget about you. I want to stay active.”
In his polite Scandinavian manner, I think “The Joker” is trying to say that real fighters fight, and for that I take his point. But the math still feels a little curious.
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Compounding my curiosity is his acceptance of No. 13 Vettori. Still stinging from his 2018 split decision loss to the man who would become the champ—Israel Adesanya—“The Italian Dream” has put together an impressive three-fight campaign that has all the visible hallmarks of a man on a mission. Now with the prospect of jumping into the top 5 and getting that much closer to an Adesanya rematch makes an already-dangerous fighter that much more dangerous. Why would Hermansson want this particular guy at this particular moment?
“After I got notice of fighting Vettori, I got a little bit of adrenaline in the body,” he says, smiling at the memory. “We took the laptop and started watching his fights right away.”
“Marvin comes with power and pressure,” he continues. “He’s a strong fighter. He’s going to go after it. He’s hungry and he wants my spot. I want to finish him and make a statement. So it makes for an exciting fight.”
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Indeed. There’s a borderline giddiness in his voice that belies the mayhem that will certainly ensue when the Octagon door is locked. It’s a state of mind few of us will likely ever know.
“I’ve had just one fight this year. I don’t think that’s enough,” he shrugs.
And what a fight it was. In the July 18 installment of UFC Fight Island, Hermansson needed a scant 78 seconds to heel hook Kelvin Gastelum. There are myriad things any of us might remember about the year that is 2020 one day, and for Hermansson, it will be that evening.
“To be successful in the cage is the most important thing for me right now. My win over Kelvin Gastelum was definitely that moment for me. I was coming from a loss and I got an opportunity to fight one of the top guys, a guy that did very well against Adesanya. I just felt like I have the possibility here to prove myself, show everybody how good I am. I managed to finish him in the first round.”
Not that Hermansson lacks confidence, but besting the man who went a full twenty-five minutes with Adesanya in just seconds bestowed him with the knowledge that he has the tools to stand with the current champ when his chance comes. Taking care of Vettori, one of the few others to go the distance with The Last Stylebender, would only strengthen that resolve.
“I need to be at my best to beat him,” he says of Vettori. “He’s no pushover. But at the same time, I have bigger goals than my position right now. I want to become the best in the world, and I’m not going to let Marvin take that away from me.”