UFC 254: Cannonier Looks to Stop Whittaker En Route to Adesanya

Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 23: (L-R) Opponents Robert Whittaker of Australia and Jared Cannonier face off during the UFC 254 weigh-in on October 23, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Jared Cannonier has already been named the next man up by Israel Adesanya, but former king Robert Whittaker has other plans at UFC 254.

If there was doubt that former champion Robert Whittaker would not live up to his standard in 2020, he put that to rest with his battle against Darren Till in July.  After being vocal about experiencing burn out with the sport and withdrawing from a fight with Cannonier in March, “The Reaper” turned away a hungry contender in Till who was eager to take his place in the title picture.  Whittaker prevailed in a gritty five round battle with a heavy handed foe and showed that he was still eager to compete and get back to the top of the division.

Such a possibility was once in question.  Numerous injuries and ailments kept Whittaker from being active and on more than one occasion pulled him from fights at the last minute.  Following the loss to Israel Adesanya in October, there was question if he could return to the form that saw him best Yoel Romero twice and record stoppages over the likes of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Derek Brunson.  His latest foe already has a bright future laid out in front of him, but another sharp performance from Whittaker would halt those talks and turn the conversation towards whether Adesanya can defeat him for a second time.

Though no one denies he’s found his groove as a middleweight, Jared Cannonier’s UFC setbacks look far better in 2020 than in years past.  Coming against Jan Blachowicz, Dominick Reyes, and Glover Teixeira, the fact that he’s lost only to contenders and a current champion speaks to the level of competition he faced at light heavyweight.  In the last two years, “The Killa Gorilla” has added the legendary Anderson Silva and current top contender Jack Hermansson to his list of victims at middleweight.  Were it not for injuries and timing, Cannonier would likely already have cemented his place as the next title challenger.  Instead, he finds himself matched up with a dangerous former champion before he can turn his sights on the current king.

To Cannonier’s benefit, the UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has already reserved the next shot at the throne to him.  Leading up to and after his last fight, Adesanya praised Cannonier and expressed that he was looking forward to competing against him.  Considering that a win over Cannonier would be considered one of the last steps towards sweeping the division, Saturday’s contest carries extra importance for the Arizona based fighter.  Add in the fact that Whittaker had pulled out of the fight in March, Cannonier’s added time to prepare for him could lead to an even more impressive performance.

Whittaker should look to use his speed and footwork to get in-and-out with Cannonier.  The former champion has proven himself to be multi-faceted striker and should look to test the cardio of his opponent.  Cannonier is a more conventional striker and Whittaker’s strategy should be to slip-and-counter throughout the night.  For Cannonier, walking down Whittaker with kicks and shots to the body are all paramount to getting in close range.  Though the Australian has shown impressive power himself, the fight favors the compact shots of Cannonier if he can force exchanges in the pocket.

A victory for Whittaker would likely leave him to await Jack Hermansson should “The Joker” prevail against Darren Till in December.  Though a rematch with Adesanya is not out of the question, the one-sided nature of their last fight could remain a tough sell just a year-and-a-half later for Whittaker.  Cannonier would likely face Adesanya in the first quarter for 2020, although the possibility of another rival stealing his focus could thwart those plans if the bout comes to fruition.