UFC Vegas 66: Cannonier and Strickland Get Spotlight In Comeback Bout

Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland, UFC Vegas 66
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 16: (L-R) Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on December 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

For the final UFC event of 2022, middleweights Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland look to return to the win column as they clash styles and personalities at UFC Vegas 66.

This is not unfamiliar territory for Jared Cannonier, even if the arrival here is from a higher perch than before.  “The Killa Gorilla” was last seen as the International Fight Week headliner against then champion Israel Adesanya in July where he found himself on the wrong end of a one-sided rout.  The loss snapped a two fight win-streak and a 5-1 run overall at middleweight after competing at both heavyweight and light heavyweight in the UFC.

While he is not alone to having lost to Adesanya, it does make a victory on Saturday more critical.  With his 39th birthday coming up in the spring, a two-fight skid would not be ideal (to say the least) in regards to returning to a possible title bout while he is still in the best form of his career.  He has a huge platform to take advantage of in his latest headliner, and a return to the form that saw him defeat perennial contenders Derek Brunson, Jack Hermansson, and Kelvin Gastelumm would poise him well going into 2023.

The next fact might surprise you: Sean Strickland has been a part of the UFC for nearly a decade.  The brash middleweight first made his promotional debut in 2014 before dropping down to welterweight a year later and posting a respectable 6-3 record that saw him also face the likes of future champion Kamaru Usman and perennial contenders Santiago Ponzinibbio and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos.  A motorcycle accident would take him out of action for two years.  Upon his return, he moved up to middleweight and quickly made his way up the rankings.  As he gained more attention, his penchant for conducting interviews without political correctness also spread.

Lost in his talk at times is the fact that Strickland has been one of the most consistent performers in recent years.  Since his return in 2020, Strickland has bested the likes of Uriah Hall, Krzysztof Jotko, Brendan Allen, and others en route to a five fight win-streak.  The performances led to a title eliminator with future champion Alex Pereira earlier this July on the same night that Cannonier also fought Adesanya.  Strickland suffered a deflating first round knockout loss and now finds himself at a crucial juncture.  While an immediate rematch with Pereira is not likely to be in the near future, there are a multitude of previously dispatched title challengers who are looking to capitalize on the change in the status quo at the top of the division.  As such, Strickland’s ability to get back to the top of the division quickly will depend on getting a victory on Saturday.

A Strickland victory will depend on his ability to get in-and-out with excellent shot-selection as exchanges in the pocket heavily favor Cannonier.  Strickland does well when throwing with high volume and will need to pick his spots as to not over extend himself as Cannonier looks to counter.  Cannonier by comparison should look to work in kicks to the calf and initiate the clinch against the fence where he can slow down the mobility of Strickland.  Over time he will become a slower target and that Cannonier will be able to hit with more ease.

The winner of the bout is likely to find themselves taking on the winner of the expected upcoming bout between former title challengers Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa.  While there are several scenarios that could take place, a bout between Cannonier or Strickland and the winner of the aforementioned bout would make the most sense to help further propel the contenders forward to a title shot.


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