The middleweight match at the top of this weekend's UFC event is an extremely interesting stylistic clash. Even though Jack Hermansson is coming off a pair of first-round submissions, his distinctive striking style is what has really set him apart from the rest of the division. He has some clear advantages on the stat sheet over veteran grappler Jacare Souza. Unfortunately for Hermansson, some of his tendencies might actually end up playing into the strengths of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace.
Let's dive deeper into what will make the difference on Saturday night.
Despite not really being a traditional striker, Hermansson currently holds the best striking differential among ranked middleweights in the UFC. He lands 4.90 significant strikes per minute while absorbing only 1.77 per minute for a 3.13 striking differential. Hermansson is one of only two fighters in the division, along with Paulo Costa (3.04), who have a differential north of 2.00.
Souza has worked hard to make himself a striker since converting from competitive grappling in 2003. While he has made impressive strides, he currently holds a 0.15 striking differential, which is third worst among ranked middleweights. His defense is respectable as he has allowed his opponents to land only 2.46 significant strikes per minute. However, his offensive output really drags down his differential. In his UFC/Strikeforce/Dream career, he has landed only 2.61 significant strikes per minute. That rate ranks him 15th out of the top 16 UFC middleweights.
At a glance, Hermansson's advantage in terms of this metric makes it appear that he should be a heavy favorite in this matchup. However, his impressive striking numbers are reliant on some specific stylistic quirks that might actually put him in danger against Souza.
Most fighters in the UFC land the lion's share of their significant strikes at distance, which is defined as standing and not in the clinch. In order for strikes to be considered significant in the clinch and on the ground, the blows must land with meaningful power. These factors highlight the peculiar and impressive ground striking of Hermansson. In his UFC career, 46 percent of his landed significant strikes have come on the ground. That is more than he has landed at both distance (40 percent) and the clinch (14 percent). Through his first eight UFC fights, he has outlanded his opponents 114 to 12 in terms of grounded significant strikes.
The ground striking strategy has obviously paid off in terms of offense. However, his fondness for working from the top position also has a positive influence on his defense. Hermansson's significant strike absorption rate is best among ranked middleweights, and he has avoided 64 percent of his opponents' significant strike attempts. The ability of "The Joker" to land with power on the ground is a vital element of his division-leading striking differential and overall UFC success.
Even though his base is a ground-based fighting style, Souza has done the majority of his striking at distance. Fifty-four percent of his landed significant strikes have come in that position. However, one of the key tenets of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is defending oneself on the floor. Of the significant strikes Souza has absorbed over his UFC/Strikeforce/Dream career, only 9 percent have come on the ground. Through those 25 fights, he has absorbed only 51 significant ground strikes.
Hermansson's ability to land meaningful blows on the ground has been critical in his recent career. As impressive as he has been, it is hard to see him unleashing that strategy against a skilled and seasoned jiu-jitsu player like Souza. If Hermansson puts himself into position to land ground strikes, he could also give Souza the opening he needs to implement his noted grappling game.
Takedowns and grappling
It would be safe to say that Souza is one of the best grapplers in the middleweight division. The assumption is based on both reputation and facts. He lands 3.01 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time, which is third best among ranked fighters in the division. He also earns 1.42 passes per takedown, which means that he is regularly improving his position on the ground. Finally, he attempts 1.7 submissions per 15 minutes, which is tops among ranked middleweights. The UFC's definition for an attempted submission requires that the hold be fully locked on, so it makes that metric all the more impressive.
Up until this point in his UFC career, Hermansson has needed to get the fight on the floor to be successful. He has gone without a takedown in two UFC fights, and he has lost both of those contests. The good news is that, like Souza, he also has impressive offensive grappling numbers. He is currently averaging 2.38 takedowns per 15 minutes and 2.00 passes per takedown. Despite offensive success, he also has some defensive liabilities, particularly when it comes to the submission game. He has been forced to escape at least one submission in five of his eight fights, and he has allowed his opponents to earn 2.38 submission attempts per 15 minutes of fight time.
In order for Hermansson to implement his ground striking offense, he will need to take the fight to the floor. Unfortunately for him, his best striking position is also a place where Souza is comfortable. If anything, the position might end up favoring Souza and providing him a clear path toward a submission victory.