With the year in full swing, the UFC stays home in Las Vegas for the final Fight Night before the highly anticipated UFC 298. This weekend, at UFC Vegas 86, the middleweight division is featured heavily, including in the main event, as rising star Joe “Bodybagz” Pyfer meets perennial contender Jack “The Joker” Hermansson.
In three fights inside the UFC, Pyfer has yet to be truly challenged, only seeing a second round once. He has finished all of his opponents inside the distance and has an average fight time of just over four minutes. This Saturday, he meets a ranked opponent for the first time in Hermansson. No. 11 in the rankings entering the fight, Hermansson has been out of action for over a year and last fought in Dec. 2022. He came up short against Roman Dolidze and has a tough test to try and get back on track against a stalwart like Pyfer.
In the co-main event, two of the most entertaining featherweights will square off as Dan Ige takes on Andre Fili. Ige comes into the fight after dropping his last fight via unanimous decision to Bryce Mitchell. He needs a win over Fili to avoid losing back-to-back fights, after winning his previous two in a row. Fili has alternated wins and losses over his last four, and he has an opportunity to win back-to-back fights for the first time since 2019.
UFC Fight Night: Hermansson vs. Pyfer takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Joe Pyfer is 3-0 since officially joining the UFC; how does he handle a tricky veteran like Jack Hermansson?
Kuhl: It’s not really fair to refer to the UFC’s eleventh-ranked middleweight Jack Hermansson as “the past” quite yet. However, his fight with Joe Pyfer is definitely the past versus the future.
Hermansson entered the UFC seven and a half years ago, and he has compiled a 10-6 record along the way. On the positive side, he’s a very well-rounded athlete, who can finish a fight anywhere, and he has notable wins over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Thales Leties and Chris Curtis. On the negative side, while of of his UFC losses have been to some of the highest-level opponents, he is susceptible to being finished, and he has not always fared well when going the distance. His last fight did not end well when he lost a TKO to short-notice replacement opponent Roman Dolidze. That was in Dec. 2022, and he has not fought sense to to injuries to himself and an opponent. Unfortunately for him, Pyfer is not exactly the guy to have a tune-up fight against.
Pyfer has a wild background, growing up with an abusive father, and he started training jiu-jitsu at a young age. He has a fire in him that is not something you can train for. He is a very talented, very well-rounded fighter, who brings the fight with relentless pressure. After a second-round knockout of Ozzy Diaz on the Contender Series in 2022, he scored back-to-back, first-round knockouts of Alen Amedovski and Gerald Meerschaert before submitting Abdul Razak Alhassan last October. Sprinkled in between are a couple pro grappling wins over Eryk Anders and Meerschaert. The 27-year-old New Jersey native, who now represents Philadelphia, is on a one-way trip to the top of the division.
Pyfer’s bread and butter is takedowns. He has a high takedown average, and he uses that to finish the fight however he can. Sweden’s 35-year-old Hermansson has an early wrestling background and has used his grappling well, keeping a 75% takedown defense in the UFC. However, he is going to have a problem with the youth and size of Pyfer, who is pretty yoked for a middleweight.
Hermansson is going to try to dust off the cobwebs, but Pyfer is going to take him down in the first round, scoring a TKO victory.
Petela: Joe Pyfer is a problem for anyone at middleweight. The man scored higher on the UFC’s punch tracker than Francis Ngannou. Think about that, the middleweight hits harder than the former heavyweight champion of the world. On the feet that’s a scary enough thought but as my colleague pointed out Pyfer’s go to is his offensive wrestling. The damage he can do with ground and pound is remarkable. He doesn’t need much space to be able to get off thunderous punches and unfortunately for his opponents, there’s nowhere for their heads to go except directly back into the canvas.
It’s not time to put Jack Hermansson out to pasture just yet but boy oh boy is this a bad fight for him. He’s a competent striker but his best skills are on the mat in the jiu-jitsu world. He outgrappled Jacare Souza over twenty-five minutes and submitted David Branch who is a Renzo Gracie black belt. Once the fight gets to the mat, Hermansson will have a chance but it won’t be a good chance. “The Joker” needs space to work his submission offense and he won’t have any with Pyfer on top of him. He won’t be able to be active from his guard or half guard to try and sweep Pyfer because of the immense pressure that a strong wrestler like Pyfer is able to use.
This one doesn’t last long and it won’t go well for Jack Hermansson. Outside of something like a fluke heel hook attempt when Pyfer has a lapse in concentration, the road to victory is a pretty uphill climb. Before the first round ends Joe Pyfer will do his best to put Jack Hermansson’s head through the canvas but luckily there is a referee who will stop that from happening. TKO in round one for Pyfer as he makes a big statement over a longtime contender. Beware middleweights, there’s a new kid in town.
The co-main event features a pair of veteran featherweights in Dan Ige and Andre Fili; which fighter comes away with a win and will it be the beginning of a push to the top of the division?
Petela: This is going to be a fun fight, but I don’t think either man will be knocking on the door of a title shot at any time in his career. Dan Ige is 32 years old, and Andre Fili is one year older. They aren’t past their primes, yet, but they are certainly in them, and, from what we have seen out of them over their careers, the true elite are a level ahead of them.
Ige has had a number of opportunities to challenge some of the premier fighters in the weight class, and, despite gritty performances in each of those fights, he always came up short. He has decision losses to Calvin Kattar, The Korean Zombie, and Josh Emmett. Fili has been around forever, so it actually surprises me that he is only 33. He made his UFC debut over a decade ago in 2013 and has been up and down since then, many times alternating wins and losses while he is unable to build any real momentum. Even with a win over Ige, his ceiling is below the very top of the division.
As far as this fight is concerned, it should be a pretty even matchup. Both men possess solid fundamental skills in all facets of mixed martial arts, and I expect both of them to be comfortable standing and exchanging strikes at distance. The length of Fili will be the difference maker. Not only does he have long arms but he also knows how to use that size to his advantage. I expect this one to have a lot of Fili leading the dance, Ige defending well and countering, but then eating big shots as Fili counters the counter. Probably going to see a decision in this one, with Fili getting the nod.
Kuhl: Andre Fili might take home the award for the least popular Team Alpha Male OG, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. HE has just flown under the radar for nearly a decade and a half, after guys like Joseph Benavidez, T.J. Dillashaw, Danny Castillo and, of course, Urijah Faber spent a lot more time in the limelight. He started with TAM the same year that Dillashaw did, but never achieved anywhere near the level of notoriety.
In Fili’s 11-9-1 UFC record, he never strung together more than two wins, and he largely bounced between a win followed by a loss for most of that time. To his credit, he’s only been stopped four times in the UFC, and getting knocked out with a Yair Rodriguez head kick or submitted by a flying triangle from Godofredo Pepey are not exactly the worst dings to a record. Fili also has some impressive knockouts of his own, including in his last fight, when he scored a first-round TKO over Lucas Almeida last December. He is a hell of a striker, and he always brings the fight, and he’s only a +142 betting underdog when he steps in as a short-notice replacement to face Dan Ige.
Ige came out of the Contender Series in 2017, and he made a run to the top of the UFC’s featherweight division that looked like he was on track to a title fight. Then, he went 3-5 in the last three and a half years with two knockout wins, one decision win and five decision losses. He hit a point where he can go the distance, but not in dominating fashion. Surprisingly, for a guy with a black belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo, he only has one official submission win in the UFC, plus one on the Contender Series. Needless to say, he has good grappling defense, but has not been as successful on the attacking side of it.
Fili is a brawler, and Ige is really durable. If Ige connects the right punch, he can put Fili’s lights out, but Fili is taller and rangier, which makes him harder to hit. I think this one goes the distance with plenty of striking action, but also plenty of ground scrambles, and, like my colleague, I think Fili will get the nod.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Devin Clark badly needs a win on Saturday. He is 2-4 in the last three years, and three of the losses were by stoppage. In that time, he had one TKO win over William Knight in Apr. 2022, and his only other win was a decision over Da-Un Jung a year ago, and that was Jung’s second loss on his current three fight losing streak. Clark needs to get past Marcin Prachnio, which is certainly not a given, or his days may be numbered.
Petela: Michael Johnson. With all due respect to the man, he has turned out to be a bust. In just about every fight he loses, he’s on the way to victory before things take a turn for the worse, and he ends up getting beat. The last time he won back-to-back fights was 2018 and he enters this fight after being defeated by Diego Ferreira with a first-round knockout. The 37-year-old “Menace” might be making the walk for the final time if he doesn’t pick up a win over Darrius Flowers.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Bruna Brasil. I really like watching Lookboonmee fight. She has some of the best Thai boxing in the promotion and for someone short and compact she really uses distance well and has stellar push kicks that keep her opponents off balance. She is evolving as a mixed martial artist and picked up her first career submission the last time she fought. Don’t expect another submission win in this one but I think she will put on a technical clinic against Brasil and score her first knockout win inside the UFC.
Kuhl: Armen Petrosyan vs. Rodolfo Vieira is not a proverbial striker-vs.-grappler match-up. It is quite literally an IFMA World and multiple-time Russian Muay Thai champion, Petrosyan, taking on ADCC World and multiple-time IBJJF World and Pan American champion in Vieira. The Brazilian has eight submissions in nine pro MMA wins, and the Russian-Armenian has six knockouts in nine pro MMA wins. The best part about both of these being very crafty in one modality is that they are going to meet in the center of the Octagon to see which one is better, and the outcome should be a fantastic finish.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: Joe “Bodybagz” Pyfer is going to send Hermansson home in the proverbial bodybag, and he will collect some extra cash on his way out of the Apex.
Petela: Rodolfo Vieira. He is one of the best pure submission grapplers in the promotion and this weekend against Armen Petrosyan he will prove that on his way to making an additional $50K. Vieira will avoid the big power of Petrosyan, get the fight down to the mat and then go to work and pick up a submission before the end of round number two.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Have you ever been in a house that has an HVAC system that doesn’t work quite right? Sometimes it is hot, sometimes it is cold, but you can never get it quite right. That is kind of how I feel about this card. There will be some really hot fights that have your palms sweaty and you biting your fingernails and some that make you wish you were already tucked into bed. So pair this card with a box fan for when it gets too hot and a comfortable blanket for when the fights go cold.
Kuhl: Joe Pyfer may have been born in New Jersey, but he is a Philadelphia guy through and through. This will be a breakout performance, when he beats Jack Hermansson, so break out the Philly Cheesesteaks and enjoy his dominance with one of the most dominant sandwiches in the hot-sandwich circuit.
Main Card (ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET)
MW: Jack Hermansson vs. Joe Pyfer
FW: Dan Ige vs. Andre Fili
MW: Ihor Potieria vs. Robert Bryczek
MW: Brad Tavares vs. Gregory Rodrigues
LW: Michael Johnson vs. Darrius Flowers
MW: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Armen Petrosyan
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
WW: Trevin Giles vs. Carlos Prates
LW: Bolaji Oki vs. Damir Hadzovic
Women’s StrawW: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Bruna Brasil
LHW: Devin Clark vs. Marcin Prachnio
WW: Jeremiah Wells vs. Max Griffin
LHW: Zac Pauga vs. Bogdan Guskov
FW: Hyder Amil vs. Fernie Garcia
BW: Daniel Marcos vs. Aoriqileng
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