When Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland battle in the main event of the UFC Fight Night card this weekend, it’ll be a classic clash of styles reminiscent of the early days of mixed martial arts.
On one side, the Swedish-born Norwegian Hermansson will undoubtedly be looking to bring the fight to the ground, where he can use his grappling to either submit or batter Strickland with ground strikes. In the other corner, American will look to utilize pressure, volume, and a well-rounded skill set to drag Hermansson into the late rounds and stave off his wrestling and ground skills.
Whoever wins in this battle of top middleweights will position themselves firmly into the picture for a shot at Israel Adesanya’s championship belt — perhaps even earning the next shot with a particularly impressive performance.
Ahead of their anticipated matchup, SPIN spoke with both fighters separately about what each should expect, the recent surge they’ve both been on, and a whole lot more.
SPIN: What can people expect from your fight this weekend?
Jack Hermansson: They can expect a fast-paced fight. Both me and Sean like to go forward. I know he’s very durable, but I’m going to try to push the fight and get the finish. That should make it exciting.
Sean Strickland: The thing about Jack is that I’m better than him, and we all know that. The only part [of MMA] that he’s better than me is probably that he’s more orthodox, but I don’t know. I’m going to punch him in the face for five rounds, and he’s going to try to take me down, but I think I’m fucking better than him there too. But he’s a pretty fucking tough man, and when you fight a tough guy that can go five rounds like that, anything could happen. He’s not a guy that you hit in the face once and he quits. Maybe he fucking knocks me out. Who fucking knows? We’re going to find out Saturday. That’s why we fight.
You’ve each gotten a lot more attention recently. Particularly Jack, with your grappling, and Sean, with your attitude both in and out of the cage. What do you think it is that has drawn people to you recently?
Hermansson: I think [my grappling] is exciting. It makes me stand out even more, especially with the king on the top of the hill [UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya] as a striker. That makes for an exciting matchup for myself, because I think a lot of people are interested to see what will happen when I apply my grappling. I think my top game is something that nobody else possesses in the UFC. I think it’s something really special there. Most people when they end up in that position, they’re shocked. I think it’s really hard for them to get a feel for that in training because I don’t think there’s many people who have that kind of skill.
Strickland: I don’t know, man. People like me, but I also get fucking death threats. I think people just like me because I’m a white trash motherfucker and I’m real. The problem is that when people put a camera in front of [other people’s] faces, they throw on a suit and become a superstar. I understand that I’m just a white trash motherfucker making an OK amount of money, and at the end of the day, that’s just what I’m going to be.
Before this fight, Jack, I know your schedule was hit hard by COVID, with two or three fights falling through and getting shuffled around at the last minute because of it. How frustrating was that for you and your team?
Hermansson: We were always waiting to hear if or when we could fight then, but at least we can now. You just try to make the best out of the situations that are out of your control. You just adapt and make the best out of it.
And Sean, you’re riding a five-fight win streak, making a bigger name for yourself in the division and finally in a position to really be in the mix for a title shot. Going into your 15th fight in the UFC, does it feel like everything is finally starting to pay off?
Strickland: You hit the nail on the head. It’s paid off. I’m making more fucking money now, and that’s what I care about at the end of the day. Here’s the thing about being big or “famous” in this sport. I could be famous for a day, go get fucking knocked out by Jack, and I’m back to being a fucking nobody. It doesn’t mean anything. Only thing I want to fucking do is fight and have money in a fucking bank account. All the rest is just fluff and bullshit. As for [the championship], everybody ranked wants to fight Adesanya. If you’re ranked and you don’t want to fight Adesanya, you should question why you’re fighting. If I can put Jack away impressively, then fuck yeah, let’s fucking cut the line for a title shot. Or I get fucking knocked out and I’m a fucking nobody, so I have to climb the ladder again, man. I don’t want to fuck up a title shot, but I want to make fucking money, so give me a name and I’ll fucking fight him.
Seeing as SPIN is a music outlet, what do you listen to before or during training or to get ready for a fight?
Hermansson: For training, I like hip hop, heavy metal, or rock music. For relaxation, I listen to everything from American pop music to all kinds of music. I know most people say that they listen to everything, but I really do listen to and enjoy a lot of different genres.
Strickland: Music is for fucking cowards. I don’t train with music. The weirdest thing is that some guys can’t train without fucking music. I don’t know why I would need to listen to music. I’m only really big on one band, and that’s Poor Man’s Poison. I like that band, but I’m not a big music guy. I like podcasts, YouTube, and shit like that. I think it’s because I’m a stupid man, so I have to educate myself. I dropped out of high school, so I have to educate myself any chance I get.
Is there anything else you’d want people to know about you before they tune in to your fight this weekend?
Hermansson: I just hope they want to see the most exciting ground specialist in the UFC. When you watch my fights, you know that as soon as the fight hits the ground, a finish is never far away.
Strickland: Every chance I get, I just want to thank everybody for watching my fights. At the end of the day, the fans are the ones that are signing my paycheck. I just want to thank all of the people who fucking back me, watch me and support me.