The disrespect doesn’t necessarily come from his opponent—who has been pretty quiet in the build to the middleweight matchup set for this Saturday night at the UFC APEX—but by the oddsmakers, and the promotion in which he fights for.
“GM3” competes in his 45th professional fight against the 8-0 Chimaev, who subsequently has his return fight tentatively booked with multiple-time UFC title challenger Demian Maia in December. Chimaev turned a lot of heads with two dominant finishes of John Phillips and Rhys McKee in an 11-day stretch on Fight Island in July in two different weight classes.
Following DWCS Season 4: Week 6 earlier this month, UFC president Dana White spoke with the media about double booking Chimaev and claimed that there was no disrespect intended towards Meerschaert by having the bout with Maia ready to go.
“The thing is the guy wants to keep fighting,” White said of Chimaev. “He wants all these fights back-to-back. It’s no disrespect to his opponent, he’s either gonna win or lose. That has nothing to do with us. That’s up to them. But to do that, really fight two fights in a row, you have to book them.”
Meerschaert heard White’s comments, and while he understands the UFC’s mindset in pushing Chimaev, the 32-year-old still feels somewhat slighted.
“On one hand, you want to be a good promoter,” Meerschaert told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “You’ve got this opportunity to build this guy up and, in essence, set him on track to be a superstar. Why wouldn’t you do that? I totally get that from a business perspective.
“On the other hand, he also kind of sounded like, did you ever see Talladega Nights? It sounded like Ricky Bobby when he said, ‘Just because you say no disrespect, you can’t then say something super disrespectful afterwards.’ It’s not disrespectful, but I’m definitely going to do something that most people feel is disrespectful right after. It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword.”
With the hype Chimaev has garnered after his first two wins inside the octagon, Meerschaert was asked if he believes the hype behind his next opponent is warranted.
“I understand why,” Meerschaert said. “I’ve been around long enough and I’ve seen the direction the sport has gone and the way the UFC likes to build people up. It makes sense. He’s young, he’s undefeated, and he’s had two very quick fights, back-to-back, where he looked very dominant and because they were so quick back-to-back, a lot of people overlook the opponents he had.
“He had a guy that moved up from lightweight to welterweight that wasn’t a challenge at all—maybe he had a bad night, maybe he’s different from what we saw that night. But he wasn’t much of a challenge. Then, he fought an 85er who looked like he had a tough weight cut who likes to stand and bang. It’s pretty easy work if you’re a competent grappler and, clearly, it was.
“That being said, if you fight fast enough people will overlook those two things, and on top of that, you fight just like a guy who is a champion, who is also undefeated. Most times, people want to see fighters stand and bang and knock each other out, but in this case, if you fight exactly like Khabib, undefeated and from the same area, he’s doing the ‘I will smash him’ shtick, of course they’re going to take it and run with it.”
The Roufusport product has had a roller coaster ride during his UFC tenure. Meerschaert finished four of his first five promotional fights, with the lone loss coming to Thiago Santos via TKO at UFC 213. Since then, Meerschaert has lost four of his last six, which includes controversial decision split decision losses to Kevin Holland and Eryk Anders and submission wins over Trevin Giles and Deron Winn. In his most recent bout, Meerschaert was finished in the first round by Ian Heinisch at UFC 250.
Despite having a 36-fight experience edge on his opponent, Meerschaert enters Saturday night nearly a four-to-one underdog at the betting window.
“It’s ridiculous,” Meerschaert said. “Anyone that likes betting money on anything, this would be a pretty good bet for you to take right now. There’s a lot of upside that people aren’t seeing.”
This isn’t the first time Meerschaert has had the opportunity to play spoiler in his career. Prior to making his UFC debut, Meerschaert was matched up with unbeaten 20-year-old prospect Sidney Wheeler for regional promotion Valor Fights in 2016. Wheeler entered the bout with a lot of hype with wins in his first five professional bouts, but was submitted in just 82 seconds. Two fights later, Meerschaert was in the UFC.
Coincidentally enough, Chimaev also holds an opening round finish over Wheeler at Brave CF 20 in December 2018.
Meerschaert sees similarities in the two scenarios and knows this fight with Chimaev is on a much higher scale than his fight with Wheeler four years prior. If he’s able to derail another hype train, he is well aware of what it can do for his career.
“It would definitely help a lot,” Meerschaert said. “A lot of people keep asking me, ‘Well, if you win, do you want to fight Maia?’ As far as I know, Maia is staying at 170. And one thing I do know is that I’m not cutting to 170, first of all. Second of all, I’m not thinking about anybody else. I’m thinking about Khamzat Chimaev on Sept. 19. To me, there’s nothing after that.
“He can think about how many people he’s going to run through by the end of the year, I’m just thinking about him. It’s just me and him locked in the cage.”
When he breaks his opponent down, Meerschaert says he has seen Chimaev run through guys using the same strategy time and time again. It just so happens that the formula that has made Chimaev successful will fall into the strengths that Meerschaert possesses.
As far as how he sees the fight playing out, Meerschaert knows the fight will be a tough one, but he expects to shock a lot of people on Saturday night.
“I just got to break him mentally,” Meerschaert said. “I know it’s not gonna be easy. Look, again, undefeated, tough kid, he thinks he can take on the world. But what’s gonna happen when he runs into somebody that doesn’t lay over for him? What’s gonna happen when the thing he wants to do is the worst thing for him?
“I’m gonna frustrate him. I’m gonna make him make mistakes. Then he’s gonna find himself in a position that he’s not used to and he’s gonna have to either give up, go to sleep, or he’s gonna get an appendage broken off.”