UFC 276: Cannonier Looks to Test Adesanya’s Greatness in Critical Bout

Israel Adesanya, Jared Cannonier, UFC 276
Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier, UFC 276 press conference Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

UFC champion Israel Adesanya is looking to further cement his status as the best middleweight in the world as he faces the powerful and dangerous Jared Cannonier at UFC 276.

Israel Adesanya is about to clear the table.

The UFC’s bold middleweight champion has proven his greatness already.  In the past four years he has dismissed the likes of Robert Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Derek Brunson, Paulo Costa, and Yoel Romero to establish himself as arguably the best fighter to ever compete in the weight class.  It is a claim that is not made lightly considering he holds the same title belt once held by the man considered the greatest fighter of all-time in Anderson Silva.  In terms of business, the UFC has also recognized him as one of the superstars to lead the promotion as they signed him to a lucrative new contract prior to his rematch with Whittaker in February.

“The Last Stylebender” has been nothing less than ambitious in his time as champion.  He has already rematched arguably the top two fighters in the division outside of himself in Whittaker and Vettori and even attempted to become a two-division champion in 2020.  Should he get past the next contender, then it is clear the UFC has already lined up his next challenge in either Sean Strickland or former foe in kickboxing Alex Pereira who face each other on Saturday’s undercard.  But beyond that, it is difficult to say that there are still challenges at middleweight after just four years in the company.

Saturday will be the culmination of years of hard work and improvements for Jared Cannonier.   It may be hard to believe now when looking at his body of work at middleweight, but “The Killa Gorilla” began his career and was signed to the UFC as a heavyweight.  The Alaska native who now calls Arizona home quickly found himself at light-heavyweight shortly after joining the promotion, but losses to future champions and title challengers in Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz, and Dominick Reyes eventually led him to becoming a middleweight where he has finally found his stride in going 5-1 since cutting down to 185 pounds.

It is difficult not to discuss the intangibles and x-factors of a challenger who is looking to upset a dominant champion.   For Cannonier, it is the motivation that this is what he changed his life for.  Cannonier previously had a career as an airway transportation systems specialist for the FAA but left the position to pursue MMA full-time.  He also has had to overcome setbacks even at middleweight, coming up short in a title eliminator against Robert Whittaker in 2020 by bouncing back to get a title-shot with wins over Kelvin Gastelum and Derek Brunson.  His skills and power have led him to electrifying victories in the past, but he will likely need the most special performance of his career to claim UFC gold on Saturday.

A Cannonier victory will be dependent on his ability to stop the mobility of Adesanya by attacking the legs and body.  The champion is the best in the division at controlling distance and being able to land counters without taking damage, which means Cannonier will need to be near perfect to cut-off the Octagon and walk down Adesanya.  For the champion,  he should look to use his kicks cautiously as Cannonier can look to use his explosive power to counter when Adesanya plants his feet to throw them.  Short combinations early and disciplined shot-selection when he does choose to go for more high risk attacks will once again be his best route to victory.

A Cannonier victory would likely set up an immediate rematch, although it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to pursue a bout with the winner of the Whittaker vs Vettori bout next month.  An Adesanya victory would more than likely set up a bout with the winner of the Strickland vs Pereira bout on Saturday’s undercard to complete a virtual sweep of the top contenders at middleweight.