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‘Jacare’ Souza only loses to the best — and Jack Hermansson is ready to join them

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Philadelphia-Branch v Hermansson Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since their faceoff at the UFC’s seasonal press conference earlier this month, Jack Hermansson has been visualizing the greatest challenge of his professional career: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who he meets in the main event of UFC Fort Lauderdale this Saturday night.

Before his stunning first-round submission of former WSOF champion David Branch last month, “The Joker” pondered whether he would have enough time to be matched with ranked opponent for a Swedish homecoming on June 1.

Yet, a week after he made quick work of Branch, a short notice call-up to face fourth-ranked Souza was a perfect opportunity for the former Cage Warriors champion to embrace.

“I wanted a big fight, that’s what I wanted,” Hermansson said. “That was my goal after the David Branch fight and I got what I asked for. It didn’t take minutes for me to accept it; it took seconds. As soon as I got the message, I replied, ‘yes,’ and it was on.

“It was perfect, I couldn’t have asked for more,” he added. “I was looking at Chris Weidman, who’s ranked fifth. I was thinking that if I was really lucky they might put that fight on, but suddenly [UFC] came with this fight and I’ve been very happy about it. This is the opportunity that I want and I’m glad that my wins have put me in this position. It’s a perfect fight.”

Hermansson will be buoyed by his recent performances against black belts Branch and Thales Leites, both of whom met their demises on their preferred terrain, the ground. Even though people keep telling him that he must avoid the canvas with one of the most decorated jiu-jitsu fighters of all time this Saturday night, Hermansson believes he has what it takes to mix it up with a bona fide “great.”

“Of course,” he replied when asked if his recent wins over noted grappling specialists Branch and Leites have given him confidence ahead of his meeting with “Jacare.”

“I roll with black belts all the time when I’m training, I’m used to that level in jiu-jitsu. On top of that, I’m adding in my ground-and-pound, so I know that I have a solid game that’s good enough to beat everybody. People keep telling me I can’t go to the ground with him because he’s so great. I think he is great, but so am I and I’m looking forward to proving that.”

The Swede is becoming more and more critically acclaimed for his sophisticated approach to ground-and-pound, and he’s confident he can force Souza to expend a lot of energy in their grappling exchanges.

“It’s going to cost him a lot of energy to go to the ground with me. I’m a good wrestler, so there might be a bit of a battle when it comes to the takedowns too. I think that could be to my advantage.”

And although he heaped praise on Souza’s powerful strikes, Hermansson believes himself to be the more technical puncher and kicker of the two.

“I think I have more technical striking, more precise striking and I think I have a higher variety of techniques, but he has some really amazing power,” Hermansson said. “He throws very hard, he sits down on his punches and that makes him very dangerous. I don’t want to get hit by him. But yes, I do feel I have an advantage when it comes to technical striking.”

Only the very best fighters have managed to overcome Souza since he signed for the UFC. Both Yoel Romero and Kelvin Gastelum scored contentious split decisions over the Brazilian, and champion Robert Whittaker is the only fighter who has finished him in the Octagon.

Although it seems like a tough task on paper when you consider that Hermansson has only recently joined the top 15 rankings, “The Joker” is adamant that he can defeat Souza and be counted among the best at 185 pounds.

“There are very few fights in this division that are bigger than this. ‘Jacare’ is a huge name and only the best can beat him. If I can beat him, I’m also one of the best,” he said.

Although he jumped at the chance of a short notice call-up to fight Souza, Hermansson has effectively ruled himself out of a June bout at UFC Stockholm — unless Israel Adesanya is interested in throwing down.

“I won’t be fighting in Sweden,” he laughed. “It would have to be Adesanya for the belt to get me on that card.”

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