UFC 276: Will Cannonier finally be the man to beat Adesanya at Middleweight?

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From that moment at UFC 271 in February, when Jared Cannonier, standing over his beaten, battered and utterly defeated opponent, Derek Brunson, had looked UFC president, Dana White, in the eye and shouted: “I want that title shot next! Give it to me! Nobody else! Me!” I knew this was a man who was ready, with all his heart, to be called champion.

And Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya, who coincidentally successfully defended his middleweight title later the same night, was the man standing between Cannonier and a UFC title which he had laboured for the last 7 years, across 3 different divisions. And now, at 38, an age many people consider being past the fighting prime, Cannonier finally gets the first-ever title shot of his long UFC career. You can be sure he intends to make the absolute most of it.

Adesanya himself appears to be relishing the new challenge. His last two fights were against guys he had defeated previously; the former middleweight champion he took the belt from, Robert Whittaker, and former No. 2 contender, the Italian Marvin Vettori. He even confessed he got bored during the Vettori fight. He was craving “fresh meat” as he called it and was glad when a fresh foe, as Jared Cannonier.

While Adesanya remains the overwhelming favourite – make no mistakes, they don’t call Cannonier the Killa Gorilla for nothing. The man is reputed as one of only two fighters in UFC history to record knockout wins in three different divisions.

He himself was quick to remind everyone at the UFC 276 press conference that his name, Cannonier, means the cannon man, so everyone can expect him to bring out the cannons once the cage closes on Sunday.

Riding off a record of five wins in his last six fights, the No. 2 ranked contender has every reason to feel confident. His brutal knockout of Derek Brunson in his latest fight still sends shivers down the collective spine of the entire UFC space. And for a former heavyweight competing two weights below, the possibility of a sudden heavyweight-sized knock out always looms large whenever Cannonier is in a fight.

But no matter how confident any fighter is, they can’t be more so than the middleweight king, Israel Adesanya, whose confidence has spilled over and beyond into sheer arrogance. The champ has never lost at middleweight and though he is quick to reprimand anyone who doesn’t acknowledge his loss at light heavyweight, it must feel good somewhere within that his record at his own weight class is still unblemished. And the champ will look to keep that clean record when he comes face to face with the Killa Gorilla.

But truly, I expect this fight to be very much like the Paulo Costa fight. Unless, of course, Cannonier had, over the last four months, improved on his wrestling, which led to Adesanya’s only loss, which he suffered at the hands of Jan Blachowicz. So Cannonier needs to borrow a leaf out of Ngannou’s playbook versus Gane and actually wrestle the much quicker and ever-evasive champion.

And Cannonier, a former heavyweight, has the size to hold down Adesanya’s smaller frame just like Blachowicz did and administer those vicious elbows. But if he wants to stand and trade with Adesanya, there are very few strikers that come close to the Stylebender’s level and Cannonier isn’t one of them.

Yet Cannonier possesses that cannon in his arms and one well-placed shot could spell the end for whoever was in that cage with him.

Adesanya has a solid chin, though, but it’s yet to be seen if that chin has ever been hit with power like the one in the hands of the gorilla. Whether the Gorilla can land it though is another matter entirely. We will find out on Sunday.

Venue: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Date: Sunday, July 3
Time: 3 am (Nigeria)


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