UFC Vegas 34: Cannonier Seeks Return to Form Against Gastelum

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Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum, UFC Vegas 34
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 20: (L-R) Opponents Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on August 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

UFC middleweight contender Jared Cannonier is looking to keep his place at the top of the division, while Kelvin Gastelum will fight to keep himself in the hunt at UFC Vegas 34.

The state of the middleweight division has granted Jared Cannonier a potential second chance to break into the title picture.  After a shoulder injury during his loss to Robert Whittaker ten months ago, “The Killa Gorilla” was left on the outside looking in as contenders such as the former champion and Marvin Vettori locked in shots at UFC gold.  Leading up to his fight with Whittaker, Cannonier was on the short list of contenders with reigning champion Israel Adesanya naming him as a potential opponent should he have been victorious.

Cannonier finds himself in potentially the same situation once again.  With Adesanya set to collide with again Whittaker at a later date, there is added attention on both Cannonier’s bout and the upcoming fight between Darren Till and Derek Brunson.  Should Adesanya prevail, it is expected that the next shot at the belt will go to either Till or Cannonier depending on which of the two is more impressive in their contest.  Should Till come up short against Brunson, it would virtually guarantee Cannonier get the next title shot should he defeat Gastelum.  Considering his body of work features stoppages victories over Anderson Silva, Jack Hermansson, and David Branch, an impressive stoppage of Gastelum would be more than enough to build interest for his title bid on pay-per-view.

Former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum has proven he remains as dangerous as ever, it just so happens that he is competing during one of the most competitive eras of the middleweight division.  While his Fight of the Year against Adesanya raised his profile immensely, he has struggled mightily to regain that position after losses to Till, Hermnasson, and Whittaker with only a single victory in that span.

A veteran of the UFC since 2013 where he was first seen on The Ultimate Fighter, it is easy to forget that Gastelum is only 29.  That said, he finds himself a career crossroads.  Currently ranked ninth, several of his recent losses are to fighters in the title picture who are nothing to scoff at.  A victory over an opponent like Cannonier would immediately change the narrative and keep him in the conversation of perennial contenders looking to move up the rankings.  A loss would be his fifth in six fights and more than likely force him out of the top ten and eliminate any hope to get back to high profile matchups in the near future.

The speed and grappling of Gastelum will be up against the raw explosiveness and physicality of Cannonier.  “The Killa Gorilla” does his best work when he is the aggressor and make his opponent a more stationary target.  As such, he wants to keep Gastelum at mid-range where he can use his reach and power to his full advantage.  Gastelum should look to use feints and movement to get inside the reach of Cannonier and possibly force the fight to the ground.  While Gastelum’s speed is a dangerous weapon, he should avoid getting into exchanges with Cannonier, instead using every combination to get in-and-out or set up takedowns.

A Gastelum victory would be an upset and likely set him up for another top five opponent in his next outing.  For Cannonier, a wait and see situation will unfortunately be the result as he must wait to see if both Till and Adesanya win their next bouts.  A title shot is in play for him, but if it does not come to pass then a fight with the winner of the October bout between Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori is most likely.

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