Middleweight fan favorite Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is poised to earn his first shot at UFC gold, but he has a major obstacle in his path.
After a rematch with Yoel Romero was canceled, Souza was instead paired up with dangerous darkhorse contender Jack Hermansson for Saturday’s UFC Fort Lauderdale main event. On the one hand, this could be the win that finally propels the Brazilian veteran to a UFC championship bout; on the other, a loss to Hermansson could be the final nail in the coffin for his hopes of reaching that goal.
The co-main event is a bit of a head-scratcher as unproven former NFL player Greg Hardy takes on the returning Dmitrii Smoliakov in a heavyweight bout. Though Hardy has shown legitimate potential in his brief pro and amateur career, and his pre-MMA controversies have brought publicity to his fights, UFC matchmakers could find themselves with eggs on their face if Hardy crashes and burns as he did in his debut this past January.
In other main card action, Alex Oliveira meets Mike Perry in what promises to be a welterweight thriller, one-time UFC light heavyweight title challenger Glover Teixeira tries to stifle 24-year-old finisher Ion Cutelaba, John Lineker and Cory Sandhagen meet in a highly anticipated bantamweight bout, and up-and-coming lightweights Roosevelt Roberts and Thomas Gifford look to open the show with a bang.
What: UFC Fort Lauderdale
Where: BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida
When: Saturday, April 27. The three-fight early preliminary card begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN 2. The preliminary action continues at 7 p.m. ET with four fights on ESPN, and the six-fight main card begins at 9 p.m. ET and will stream live on ESPN+.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Jack Hermansson
This is as risky as fights get for Ronaldo Souza. “Jacare” has beaten the best of the best and it seems like he’s occasionally been a victim of bad timing when it comes to him not fighting for the UFC middleweight championship. He could be facing that dilemma again in Jack Hermansson, a streaking fighter with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Hermansson boasts that he has some of the best ground-and-pound in all of MMA and it will be exciting to see if he dares to put that expertise to the test against Souza’s legendary submission skills. Don’t rule it out, as Hermansson just so happens to be the kind of guy who taps out submission specialists and tunes up standup fighters. For better or for worse, he will at least attempt to fight Souza on the ground.
A rapid 28-day turnaround from Hermansson’s last outing has to be taken into consideration. In a fight that is a close one on paper, every second of prep time could make a difference, and as gifted as Hermansson is, can he really be trusted to simply wing it and overcome Souza without a game plan?
With respect to Hermansson, it’s Souza’s time. He gets the submission, finally makes it over that hump, and snags that long-awaited title opportunity.
Greg Hardy vs. Dmitrii Smoliakov
Suffice to say, Greg Hardy’s debut three months ago could have gone better. While the 30-year-old looks the part of and moves like a top heavyweight prospect, his inexperience was evident as he struggled to assert himself against Allen Crowder, an inferior athlete who appeared to be tailor-made for Hardy to show out.
However, Crowder had more than enough grappling to expose Hardy’s weaknesses, which should be less of an issue with Dmitrii Smoliakov. An 11-fight veteran, Smoliakov actually has several submission victories to his name, but still has shown a preference to standing and striking. He’s a slow-footed fighter who should be even more hittable than Crowder, so if Hardy can’t get something going on the feet here, there might be no hope for him.
I picked Hardy to beat Crowder and good sense says I should probably not go that way again based on his last performance. But I’m going to assume that UFC officials and Hardy’s trainers know something we don’t and that he’ll score the knockout that was supposed to happen in his debut.
Mike Perry vs. Alex Oliveira
As easy as it is to criticize Mike Perry for being sloppy and undisciplined, his punching power is no joke. Alex Oliveira enjoys a good brawl and has bludgeoned many a foe himself, but even he may want to think twice about engaging in a slugfest with “Platinum.”
A much smarter strategy for Oliveira would be to go the Donald Cerrone route and simply wait for Perry to make a mistake before turning this into a ground battle. Perry probably won’t make the same mistake he did against Cerrone and initiate the takedown himself, so Oliveira will have to go for a trip or perhaps even pull guard to draw Perry in. Unless Perry has improved his jiu-jitsu and ground-and-pound, he’ll be tapped out again in no time.
This should be a submission win for Oliveira. Just don’t brawl, “Cowboy!”
Glover Teixeira vs. Ion Cutelaba
Ion Cutelaba is pure power, so it’s understandable that he seems like a candidate to blow out the methodical Glover Teixeira. The 39-year-old veteran’s wits will be put the test and if he’s not sharp, he’ll join Cutelaba’s list of first-round victims.
We’ve seen Teixeira taken out early in the UFC once before, when he ran into the freight train that was Anthony Johnson. I don’t think Cutelaba is on that level when it comes to finishing ability. He may want to rush in, but he’ll find that Teixiera has plenty of knockout power himself and that will force Cutelaba to respect him.
As Cutelaba becomes more and more frustrated hunting for that one big shot, he’ll leave himself open for a takedown, and it’s on the ground where Teixeira will remind everyone why he’s been a contender for so long.
Teixiera by submission in round two or three.
John Lineker vs. Cory Sandhagen
There’s a lot to like about Cory Sandhagen’s chances here. He’s a bouncy bantamweight, mobile and quick with his hands, and those are good attributes to have when you’re standing across (or more accurately, not trying to stand across) from John Lineker. He’s also going to have a huge height advantage and that will help him with using his kicks to keep Lineker’s hands as far from his chin as possible.
In Lineker’s favor is the fact that he only has one loss at 135 pounds and that’s to former champion T.J. Dillashaw. He went three rounds with Dillashaw too, and it’s unlikely Sandhagen will be the first man to knock Lineker down, and even less likely that he’s able to keep him down. Taking Lineker down is certainly an option, but that means getting close and entering the kill zone.
Sandhagen doesn’t strike me as having outstanding defensive skills or overwhelming wrestling, and those are key to fighting Lineker, who is all but impossible to defeat in a firefight. Look for Sandhagen to start off fighting strategically, only to hit the panic button when Lineker tags him a few times. And that will be the beginning of the end for him.
Roosevelt Roberts vs. Thomas Gifford
Two young, lanky lightweights are facing off here, but that’s about where the similarities end. Both 26-and-under, Roosevelt Roberts is a more polished product than Thomas Gifford at this stage of their careers. That’s not to take anything away from Gifford, a scrappy Arkansas boy who is an active grappler, it’s just that Roberts competes with a composure beyond his years.
Gifford is a little too content to fight off of his back. That’s occasionally served him well, as he’s been able to catch careless opponents with submissions. It will be a different challenge to do that to Roberts, who is aggressive from top position and a strong wrestler. Roberts’s striking is also more refined and he’s going to pepper Gifford with his jab and leg kicks all fight.
Roberts should cruise to a decision here.
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