Gerald Meerschaert has been “The Machine” and he currently sports the moniker “GM3,” but once Saturday night turns into Sunday, he will be more than content if fight fans start calling him “The Spoiler.”
“I love it,” laughs Meerschaert. “Like I've said, I can't be the undefeated guy anymore, so I'm gonna fully embrace the spoiler role.”
The “undefeated guy” across from Meerschaert this weekend in Las Vegas is Khamzat Chimaev, the breakout star of 2020 who has gone from relative unknown to fan favorite on the heels of back-to-back finishes of John Phillips and Rhys McKee that upped his pro record to 8-0 and have some calling him the next Khabib Nurmagomedov.
That’s the speeding train the 32-year-old Meerschaert is tasked with stopping. And he believes he will.
“He (Chimaev) fought a lightweight that came up to welterweight (McKee) and he fought a middleweight (Phillips) who, from what I heard, had a bad weight cut, and he's a handful if you stay on the feet with him, but if you take him down, there's not a lot of ground. And not only that, I know exactly what Khamzat wants to do and how he wants to do it. There's a hundred different ways I could fight this fight and he's gotta try and figure out which one it is.”
Wisconsin’s Meerschaert is far from intimidated by the rising star from Chechnya, and why would he be, considering that he has 44 professional fights and made his pro debut in 2007 when Chimaev was 12 years old?
Things were a lot different then, when Meerschaert first put on the gloves and was making his bones in his home state of Wisconsin, fighting for the Freestyle Combat Challenge promotion. By his eighth fight, he was 6-2 and starting to find his way. And he wasn’t thinking about UFC glory at that moment.
“When I first started, I stumbled often early on, and then I got a nice little streak going and I was just excited to be in there and excited to fight,” he said. “And it was a different landscape, too, because a lot of the guys on the old shows like that, maybe they wrestled a little bit or they boxed a little bit or they're just jiu-jitsu guys or weekend warriors who want to get in there and make some extra cash, so some of the guys were decent opponents and some of the guys were what you would consider now to be kind of gimme fights. So it was a little bit of that, a little bit of youth and just being hungry.”
But did he think 13 years later he would still be doing this, making a living for himself in the sport’s biggest promotion?
“I thought I could do that because I had guys in the gym that even if they hadn't gotten to the UFC, they were making money other places doing it, and I was like, 'Well, if I can make this a living, I'm gonna do everything I can to do that,'” he said. “Even around that time, the UFC was gaining more mainstream popularity, so you never know what's gonna happen. At that time, I probably figured I was gonna be world champ in the next two years (Laughs), but I was just happy that I had a job doing what I love.”
And he still loves it, which made the Summer of 2020 such a frustrating one for him, filled with a loss to Ian Heinisch and a couple fights with Ed Herman scrapped. But now he’s got a fight that has him amped up and ready to get back on track.
“I am very happy to be singularly focused on what I love doing most because it's such a rollercoaster ride,” said Meerschaert. “I had a big shot earlier in June and came up short unfortunately, then after that, it was gonna fight, not gonna fight, gonna fight, not gonna fight. It's one thing if something happens way in advance or something that I can control that at least I know what happened. But it was one of those things where I weighed in, I was ready to fight, all the chips were in place and then a circumstance out of everyone's control that no one could do anything about happened, and it was just super frustrating. So I definitely needed to get a good fight right now.”
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It doesn’t get better for him that this meeting with Chimaev, one that got extra steam when it was revealed that “Borz” will likely be facing Demian Maia at welterweight later this year. Despite the fights being in different divisions, the initial assumption was that Chimaev was looking right past Meerschaert and into the fall, but the beauty of it all is that Meerschaert controls his own destiny, and if he can throw a wrench into his opponent’s plans, so be it. And that is the goal for Meerschaert against a fighter he believes hasn’t faced a true test yet.
“He's very, very young in the sense that he's only got eight fights,” he said. “He's still really brand new. I don't know what his experience is outside the UFC; it's possible he could have wrestled or something beforehand, so I can't - with real certainty - speak to his competition experience, but MMA specifically, he's only got eight fights. I've got almost five times that much. So I’ve got it in that realm, and not only that, but I've said this time and time again - he hasn't fought anybody that's given him resistance. Every time he's fought somebody, whether or not his opponents want to admit it, they kind of laid over for him. He gets that initial takedown or maybe they sprawl on the very first double leg and then he gets a body lock and takes them down and it's all him from there, doing exactly what he wants to do.”
Meerschaert, who has scored 23 of his 31 wins by submission, insists he’s not that guy. In fact, if the fight goes to the ground, he welcomes it.
“He's gonna have to fight someone who not only am I not going to let him do what he wants to do and make him work in every position, but I have the ability to finish him from every position,” he said. “I think a lot of guys, especially when they fought guys like this or guys like Khabib, they get sucked into this mindset where if they're on the ground at all, they're losing. They think that if they get taken down, their only mission in life is to get back up or get to the cage and get back up, when really, that's what these guys want. They want you to go on all fours, try to build your base and get back up so they can get that wrist ride on you and just lay on you and ground and pound and possibly look for a choke. I've finished fights off my back before. I don't care if he takes me down. For me, that's another area that I can attack you from, that's another area of my offense. So I think it's going to be very different for him in that sense, as well.”
For a fighter some believe will just become another clip for Chimaev’s highlight reel, Gerald Meerschaert certainly sounds like he knows something they don’t. And he does. He’s showing up to the Apex to win. But if he does, don’t expect him to make a drop to 170 pounds to keep Chimaev’s date with Maia.
“If anyone wants to talk about that, first off, I'm only concerned with September 19th,” Meerschaert laughs. “And second of all, I am never going to welterweight in my life ever again, so if anyone who's at welterweight, Demian Maia included, wants to fight me, they can come back up to '85. I'm not cutting all that weight.”