Top-10 middleweights will stake their case for a title shot when Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland square off in the main event of UFC Vegas 47 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The main card is a showcase of the middleweight division with two further bouts at 185 pounds – the co-headliner between exciting prospects Punahele Soriano and Nick Maximov and the anticipated showdown between Bryan Battle and Tresean Gore.
Veteran Sam Alvey, who usually competes at middleweight, makes a hasty move to light heavyweight due to a late chance of opponent that’ll now see him take on Brendan Allen.
Exciting featherweights Julian Erosa and Steven Peterson will start the action at the UFC Apex with welterweights Shavkat Rakhmonov and Carlston Harris waiting in the wings to begin the night-long side game of one-upmanship.
MAIN CARD (from 2 AM Sunday SA time):
Jack Hermansson (2.75) v Sean Strickland (1.45) (Middleweight)
Six meets seven in the hunt for a shot at the winner of next weekend’s title fight between champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Robert Whitaker. Hermansson (22-6) holds the higher ranking but Strickland (24-3-1) is the favourite as he’s on a career-best surge of five consecutive wins going back to 2018.
His most recent triumph was the biggest of his career, a decision victory over feared striker Uriah Hall in his maiden main event last July. The brawler’s willingness to engage in a stand-up battle and get the better of the more decorated and sophisticated striker showed the rapid improvements Strickland’s made over the course of his current run and his ability to out-dog opponents.
“Tarzan” is well-rounded; he has 10 knockouts and four submission victories with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he’s a blood-thirsty battler at his core. He’s openly stated his desire to kill someone inside the Octagon. That tells you everything you need to know about the mentality of a man fuelled by violence.
Hermansson, like Strickland’s previous opponent Hall, is more mixed martial artist than savage. That’s not to say he’s not a finisher, 11 of his wins are by knockout and six by submission, but Strickland’s sinister side drives him to depths many are unwilling to go to.
Hermansson has fought better competition than Strickland has with mixed results, trading wins and losses in his last four. A decision win over Edmen Shahbazyan last May has “The Joker” moving in the right direction and derailing his American adversary will set the Swede up for a big 2022.
He has power in his hands and even though Strickland’s the more credentialed jiu-jitsu practitioner, Hermansson’s quick grappling actions make him a unique threat and saw five of his six submission wins come in the first round. I can’t see him catching Strickland, though, as he has excellent takedown defence (82%).
At 30, Strickland’s the younger man by three years and in the prime of his career, while Hermansson’s best days might be behind him. Strickland’s the superior striker. He works off a solid jab and throws with much more regularity. That greater technique and output should power him to a decision victory.
Punahele Soriano (1.50) v Nick Maximov (2.55) (Middleweight)
A riveting striker versus grappler match-up featuring two of the most exciting prospects at 185 pounds. Soriano has fists and feet of fury. The southpaw has wicked one-punch knockout power and killer instinct, with all but one of his eight wins coming by stoppage, including five knockouts.
“Puna” looks to return to winning ways after tasting defeat for the first time, losing a decision to Brendan Allen. Maximov beat Cody Brundage in his UFC debut to extend his perfect record to 7-0. The protégé of Nick and Nate Diaz is a jiu-jitsu wizard, who uses his grappling to both control and finish fights (three submission wins), while he also has a pair of knockouts on his record.
This clash will come down to whether Maximov can get it to the mat. Soriano has never been taken down, so odds are he stuffs Maximov’s takedown attempts and starches him to bounce him from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Shavkat Rakhmonov (1.40) v Carlston Harris (2.90) (Welterweight)
Rakhmonov is a straight-up savage. He boasts a flawless record of 14-0 and has never been to a judges’ decision. That he’s split his stoppages straight down the middle speaks to the complete competitor “Nomad,” who won both of his bouts in the UFC by submission, is.
Harris (17-4) is also hot out of the blocks in the promotion, securing stoppages on both of his trips to the Octagon. Overall, he has five knockouts and just as many submissions to his name. Rakhmonov fights with more urgency and accuracy and is poised to continue both his winning and stoppage streaks.
Sam Alvey v Brendan Allen (Light Heavyweight)
Alvey (33-16-1-1NC) looked out of luck when original opponent Phil Hawes was forced out of the fight due to injury on Tuesday, but hours later, Allen (17-5) answered the call. Alvey hasn’t won a fight since 2018 when he edged Gian Villante by split decision.
0-6-1 since then, his tenured UFC career is all but over and he’ll be hoping the advantage of having had a full camp will enable him to turn the corner. In order to seal the short-notice deal, the parties agreed for it to take place at light heavyweight instead of their usual weight class (middleweight) to spare Allen having to cut weight.
Allen had been on a two-fight win streak before he got caught by Chris Curtis in his last fight. He has slick grappling (nine submissions) and a solid stand-up arsenal (five knockouts). The game, meanwhile, has passed Alvey by. He has a big right hand but that’s about it, and he’s a slow starter.
If Allen’s conditioning is halfway up to its usual standard, he’ll get the job done. He’s a calculated competitor, so I’d be shocked if he takes the risk of pushing the throttle for a fast finish. Instead, I expect him to prevail on points.
Bryan Battle (2.35) v Tresean Gore (1.60) (Middleweight)
Rather late than never. The promising pair had punched their tickets to The Ultimate Fighter Season 29 final but Gore (3-0) was forced out through injury. In his absence, Battle (6-1) took the spoils after submitting Gilbert Urbina, his fourth win by tap out.
Gore, who proved himself to be a finisher on the reality show competition, is inexperienced but twice as dynamic as “Pooh Bear.” His takedown defence will be tested, but I expect “Mr Vicious” to batter Battle with his heavy hands.
Julian Erosa (1.31) v Steven Peterson (3.35) (Featherweight)
The perfect way to start the main card and my pick to secure the Fight of the Night honours, this guarantees to be an all-action affair. They’re more evenly matched than the odds suggest and of the same aggressive mindset, a recipe for a slobber knocker.
Both are dangerous wherever the fight goes; Erosa (26-9) has racked up 11 knockouts and a dozen submissions, while Peterson (19-9) has picked up five wins by knockout and eight by submission.
Erosa is not only the better stand-up fighter but a tall and rangy featherweight as well. At 6’1″, “Juicy J” is three inches taller than Peterson and will have a four-and-a-half-inch reach advantage, which he should ride to a decision win over his durable foe.
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