Jared Cannonier looked to rebound from his loss in his attempt to win the middleweight belt earlier this year against Sean Strickland atop UFC Vegas 66.
As one of the few top seven middleweights to have not fought for the belt already, Strickland could be close to a title shot of his own with a win here despite coming off of a loss as well. Many looked at this fight as a striking affair that pitted power against technique, with Jared being known as one of the hardest hitters at middleweight while Sean is known for his high volume boxing which is highlighted by an especially sharp jab.
Cannonier opened southpaw but has been known to switch stances, an affectation he developed somewhat recently as he grew as a fighter. He used that stance switching to cover ground and push Strickland back to the fence early. Strickland constantly feinted and jabbed as Cannonier came forwards at him with punches and occasional leg kicks. Sean’s head movement was on point early as he avoided most of those punches. Three minutes into the round Strickland caught a kick and bundled Jared over but Cannonier was able to get back to his feet quickly, although he was stuck in the clinch for a brief period. The rest of the round was medium tempo striking, with no one gaining a strong upper hand.
Jared opened round two with a big leg kick and a glancing right hand to the head, starting strong after a close first round. Cannonier tried to get past the jab of Sean and corner him but the lateral movement made it difficult. Jared was unable to cut the cage to stymie that movement. For almost the entire round the only clean strikes that Cannonier landed were leg kicks, though those were very effective against such an upright and jab-heavy fighter as Strickland. Late in the round Strickland landed a solid combination that backed Jared up, but those were the only power shots that landed cleanly during the entire round until Jared landed his first good right hand of the round right at the buzzer. The first two rounds were extremely close and could each go either way.
A good jab from Strickland was the first significant strike of round three, which caught Jared off balance and made him stumble slightly. Overall the pace and rhythm were the same as the previous rounds early on, with little clean offense landed outside of jabs and leg kicks. Jared landed two good left hook, right straight combinations halfway through the round that were perhaps his most impactful strikes of the fight, but Sean ate them with little trouble. Cannonier threw fewer leg kicks in the third and a late attempt was checked by Strickland which may have deterred Jared even more.
The championship rounds began with the same tempo once again. Defense was on point from each man and their offense was not able to crack it consistently. Sean landed two good one-two combinations around two minutes into the round, though. Strickland began to use front kicks up the middle, which Eric Nicksick had called for in his corner, but Cannonier was too sharp defensively. In the final minute Jared began to have success and was landing punches due to simply being more aggressive and committing to strikes more than before. He landed one particularly big overhand left in the last twenty seconds but Sean recovered and the bell sounded.
Going into the final round, every prior round had been close and could conceivably be scored for either fighter. The last round was crucial and both corners tried to fire up their athletes as they headed out there for the final five minutes. One minute into the round Strickland countered an over-committed strike from Cannonier and staggered him backwards somewhat with a good right hand, but Jared recovered well, then landed a right of his own soon after. Jared was getting more and more aggressive and it was suiting him as he snapped Strickland’s head back at the midway point of the round. When Jared strung more than two strikes together he had a lot of success. With ninety seconds left in the round the commentary revealed that the unofficial strike count was tied at exactly 106 significant strikes each, illustrating the thin margins in the bout. Strickland finally began to show some wear on his face in the last round as his nose got busted open but he was not deterred at all. Throughout the round they each opened up more and more and the last thirty seconds seemingly had as many strikes landed as the entire first round. The last UFC fight of 2022 ended with both men on their feet, swinging until the end.
It was a rare MMA fan who would want to be a judge for this fight, the margins were so thin and there was perhaps not a single clear round out of the full five. When Joe Martinez read the scorecards it was a split decision. All three judges had it 49-46 but two of them scored the fight for Jared ‘The Killa Gorilla’ Cannonier while only one scored it for Sean Strickland. The third ranked fighter in the world was able to successfully defend his ranking to close out the year. Brendan Fitzgerald revealed after the post fight interview that there was not a single round that all three judges scored the same, further illustrating the razor thin margins.
Official Result: Jared Cannonier def. Sean Strickland by Split Decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)