On Saturday, Feb. 5, the UFC is back in action at the UFC Apex for UFC Fight Night: Hermansson vs. Strickland. The promotion took a week off after a wildly successful UFC 270. They return to action with a fight card flush with middleweight talent and a capstone main event between top-ten contenders Jack Hermansson and Sean Strickland.
Hermansson is two years removed from a four-fight winning streak that generated title buzz, but has gone just 2-2 since that streak, most recently picking up a win over Edmen Shahbazyan in May 2021. His opponent, Strickland, has been on a hot streak, winning five consecutive fights and raising his controversial profile along the way. Hermansson and Strickland sit at six and seven in the middleweight rankings, respectively, and a dominant performance by either man could see him crack the top five.
The co-main event stays in the middleweight division with prospects Punahele Soriano and Nick Maximov squaring off, looking to bolster their status. Soriano tasted defeat for the first time in his career the last time he made his way to the Octagon, and he will look to get back to his winning ways when he takes on Nick Maximov, who trains out of the Nick Diaz Academy. Maximov notched an impressive victory in his UFC debut and will look to upset Soriano in his sophomore appearance.
Undefeated Kazakhstani phenom Shavkat Rakhmonov makes his third UFC appearance this weekend, as he takes on Carlston Harris. Harris is also 2-0 inside the UFC, picking up one submission and one TKO finish in his first two contests with the promotion. When you combine that with Rakhmonov’s 14 finishes in 14 professional bouts, this fight has fireworks written all over it from top to bottom.
UFC Fight Night: Hermansson vs. Strickland airs in its entirety on ESPN+ with the preliminary action starting at 4 p.m. ET, and the main card following at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Jack Hermansson has exchanged wins and losses over his last four fights; can he make it two straight in the win column by defeating a surging Sean Strickland?
Sumian:At first glance, this main event may seem like it is lacking the star power to establish this fight night as must watch TV. However, both Hermansson and Strickland are exciting knockout artists who are capable of putting on a show when in the spotlight.
Over the last few years, Strickland has been somewhat of an enigma. From questionable comments made in interviews to his extreme taunting methods inside the Octagon, the California native has certainly established himself as a controversial personality in the realm of mixed martial arts. His MMA skills, however, are a different story. The RVCA Sport Training Center member is currently on a five-fight winning streak at the expense of Nordine Taleb, Jack Mashman, Brendan Allen, Krzysztof Jotko, and Uriah Hall.
Strickland has consistently been better in every Octagon appearance and has shown not only his ability to finish opponents, but to also execute a well-developed game plan and be dominant from start to finish. The seventh-ranked middleweight is taking on a massive leap-up in competition when it comes to Jack Hermansson. He is also one of the few middleweights who has yet to face the champion Israel Adesanya. If Strickland is able to deliver a sixth-straight victory on Saturday night, he could very well find himself fighting in a title eliminator bout.
Jack Hermansson is no longer a middleweight contender, but he is also not a gatekeeper just yet. The Swede is a talented striker who finishes his opponents by knockout or submission, and he also delivers a gradual beatdown based on his opponent’s skillset. Hermansson has defeated some tough middleweights including Kelvin Gastelum and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza throughout his career.. However, he has failed to defeat the elite of the division, such as Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori. A win over the surging Strickland keeps Hermansson right where he is in the division, but a loss will effectively move him out of the contender conversation for good.
If Strickland continues to fight the way he has been doing so as of late, it should be a dominant unanimous decision victory for the Californian. His output and pressure should overwhelm Hermansson and may even lead to a late round finish. Strickland is a fresh new face for the division’s top five, and he should have plenty of options for his next Octagon appearance to continue his climb.
Petela: My colleague is right about Hermansson. He is not exactly a contender at middleweight, but he’s still a bit away from being relegated to gatekeeper status. This fight will be exactly what he needs to catapult himself back into title contention. Hermansson is a more-than-competent striker and could likely compete quite closely with Strickland on the feet for the duration of their main event. However, he won’t have to do that.
The difference in this fight will be the grappling advantage that Hermansson brings to the table. Strickland is no slouch when it comes to jiu-jitsu, holding a black belt and having four submission wins on his record. All of those submissions came much earlier in his career with the most recent coming in his UFC debut, back in 2014 at UFC 171 over Bubba McDaniel.
It won’t be easy for Hermansson to get this fight to the canvas and the first round will probably be fought entirely on the feet, with Strickland getting the better of Hermansson by a slight margin. Between rounds, the corner work from Hermansson’s team will be paramount to point out potential opportunities to take the fight to the canvas. The stylistic change will be noticeable right out of the gate in the second round, where Hermansson will fail a couple times before finally dragging Strickland down to the mat where he will get to work quickly. Expect Hermansson to slice through Strickland’s guard relatively easy, and, as Strickland looks to get back to his feet with Hermansson in half-guard, “The Joker” will slip in his patented arm-in guillotine and latch onto the neck until he forces the tap. Hermansson will snap Strickland’s winning streak and show once again that he is a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division.
Punahele Soriano suffered the first loss of his professional career in his last outing; what does he need to do to get back on track against Nick Maximov?
Petela: Both of these fighters are less than 10 fights into their careers, but Soriano is more of a proven commodity with a longer track record inside the UFC. Maximov made an impressive UFC debut by defeating Cody Brundage by unanimous decision, and he is a stablemate and mentee of the Diaz brothers. That, along with an undefeated record of 7-0, certainly speaks well to his abilities, but his upside is still much more of a question mark.
This fight will be entertaining without a doubt. Both of these fighters are finishers. Soriano has seven of his eight wins by stoppage, and Maximov has won five of his seven pro fights before the final bell. Soriano should have a power advantage, and it will be key for him to force this fight into boxing range and keep it there. The more of a slugfest that this turns into, the better the potential outcome for Soriano. He has an above average chin and should be more than able to take one to give one against Maximov. He doesn’t want to get into a grappling exchange with the Nick Diaz Academy prospect and should avoid throwing any naked kicks that will leave him vulnerable to being taken down. Punahele Soriano will be able to engage in extended boxing combinations and force this fight into a brawl where he gets back to the winning ways and picks up an emphatic finish.
Sumian: This fight will come down to a split decision where either combatant can pick up the win, based on what the judges see. Both are proven finishers who have the ability to put each other out. In the end, Soriano should get the nod using his combinations but Maximov should not be overlooked. Both have bright futures in the UFC and should shine in the coming years.
Tresean Gore, Chidi Njokuani, Jailton Almeida, and Denys Bondar, do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Jailton Almedia and Denys Bondar are interesting prospects to keep an eye on. Both have compiled impressive winning streaks and bring at least 10 professional fights to the cage. Expect at least one of them to deliver on their debut and capture some fan attention.
The newcomer that deserves the smoke in regards to UFC debuts is definitely Chidi Njokuani. The Las Vegas native is a six-foot-three middleweight, who is making his UFC debut after compiling a 20-7 record. However, he stands out from the rest due to the competition he has faced prior to joining the UFC. Njokuani has faced Hisaki Hato, Rafael Carvalho, John Salter, Max Griffin, Andre Fialho, and Andre Koreshkov all before making his UFC debut. He is currently on a two-fight winning streak and is an established knockout artist. He will defeat Marc-Andre Barriault and earn himself “Performance of the Night” honors.
Petela: Njokuani is definitely on the top of the list of newcomers to watch. His brother Anthony became the first Nigerian-born fighter to compete in the UFC back in 2011 and was a pioneer for African MMA. Anthony just fought this past Friday at Eagle FC 44, losing by first-round TKO to Raimond Magomedaliev. Chidi certainly has the abilities to pick up his brother’s torch and follow in fellow Nigerian Kamaru Usman’s footsteps.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Sam Alvey. Although, it feels like his career is on the line every time he fights, and, despite a putrid 0-6-1 record over his last seven fights, he seems to always get another chance. He was slated to face Ian Heinisch, but, after Heinisch withdrew from the bout he was replaced by Phillip Hawes, who was then subsequently replaced by Brendan Allen. Should Alvey not get past Allen this weekend, it is hard to see how the UFC keeps him around, though I’ve been wrong before in this opinion.
Sumian: Jack Hermansson is on the ropes of ever being a title contender, if he loses to Strickland. He has been unable to defeat the premier talent at middleweight, and a loss to the number-seven Strickland effectively removes him from title contention for good. This is a high-risk, low-reward situation for the Swede, who is definitely a top-10 middleweight, but far from ever competing for middleweight gold.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Michael Trizano. Both are tough, durable competitors who should make this one fun. Dawodu will be looking to march forward and land powerful punches on the always game Trizano. This will be a weather-the-storm type of fight for Trizano, who will likely take some of Dawodu’s best shots before the first round is over. Expect him to come alive in the back half of the round and match Dawodu strike-for-strike until the end of Round 3. This bout will go to the judges scorecard, and result in a closely contested decision, but prove to be very entertaining.
Petela: Alexis Davis vs. Julija Stoliarenko. Both of these women need a win in the worst way. Davis is 1-4 over a stretch of her last five contests, and Stoliarenko is on a two-fight skid since joining the UFC. With both of their backs against the wall, this has the makings for an absolute dogfight with the two women hitting that extra gear in pursuit of victory. Stoliarenko has won eight fights by submission, and she will likely pick up her ninth this weekend. But don’t be surprised if it comes by technical submission, with Davis refusing to tap and the fight being halted only when she loses consciousness.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Punahele Soriano. The co-main event slot will be the most entertaining fight of the night, and Soriano will get a jaw-dropping finish over Nick Maximov. He will rebound from his lone professional loss, and this could end up being a double-bonus-winning night for Soriano, as he and Maximov could likely take home “Fight of the Night” honors as well.
Sumian: Shavkat Rakhmonov. This is the year that the Kazakhstan native takes the UFC welterweight division by storm and enters the title contention conversation. He has compiled an undefeated 14-0 record, all by finish, and will extend his winning streak to 15 against Carlston Harris. Harris is no slouch, but Rakhmonov is on a different level and will prove so come Saturday with a prolific and dominant finish.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The movie Psycho. If Sean Strickland has made anything clear, he is more than willing to play the role of a psychopath heel who has no filter. He will go out and deliver on his promises and likely provide the MMA world with another memorable quote for the books.
Bonus: Middleweight madness. This card features five UFC middleweight bouts. Based on the current standing of the division, some fresh faces would be a welcome change after how dominating Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker have been. This card does not have the star power to attract many casuals to the TV, but should deliver in excitement all the same.
Petela: Swedish meatballs. Main eventer Jack Hermansson was born in Sweden, despite now hailing from its neighbor Norway. He will pick up a big win over his controversial opponent Sean Strickland, and fans should celebrate along with him with a dish from his homeland. Whether you get a microwaveable version as you watch the fights yourself, or make them from scratch for a group of friends, they’re the perfect addition to this weekend’s event.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Jack Hermansson vs. Sean Strickland
MW: Punahele Soriano vs. Nick Maximov
WW: Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Carlston Harris
MW: Sam Alvey vs. Brendan Allen
MW: Tresean Gore vs. Bryan Battle
FW: Julian Erosa vs. Steven Peterson
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
BW: Miles Johns vs. John Castaneda
FW: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Michael Trizano
MW: Chidi Njokuani vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Women’s BW: Alexis Davis vs. Julija Stoliarenko
LHW: Jailton Almeida vs. Danilo Marques
WW: Jason Witt vs. Philip Rowe
FlyW: Malcolm Gordon vs. Denys Bondar
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