Middleweight Co-Main Event
This is an interesting matchup which should ultimately determine the next challenger to Israel Adesanya’s middleweight throne.
Robert Whittaker is coming off of a bounce-back win in a scrappy fight with Darren Till. Whittaker’s nine-fight win streak was snapped when he relinquished the middleweight title to Adesanya by knockout just over a year ago. That win streak included decisions over Yoel Romero, a decision over Uriah Hall, and early knockouts over both Derek Brunson and Ronaldo Souza.
Jared Cannonier is on fire since cutting down to middleweight. He started his career as a heavyweight, before spending a year and a half fighting at light heavyweight. He went 2-3 at LHW with wins over Ion Cutelaba and Nick Roehrick, but lost decisions to Glover Teixeira and, now champion, Jan Blachowicz before being finished in the first round by Dominick Reyes. The Killa Gorilla is now 3-0 in the middleweight division with wins over David Branch, Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson, all by knockout prior to the 40-second mark of the 2nd round.
Cannonier has an incredible build for this division. It makes sense, he’s naturally about 240 pounds. He’ll have a four-inch reach advantage in this fight, but is actually an inch shorter than Whittaker. Dropping the weight has resulted in a serious increase in striking speed and overall athleticism for Cannonier, and he seems to have found his comfort zone at 185. He has great footwork and head movement, and is constantly changing his angles and inching forward, keeping opponents honest with his feints.
His heavyweight power has translated down to his current weight, and he has scary power with both hands. He backs his opponents down with his jab and leg kicks, and counters his opponents attacks with a nasty right overhand. Once he knocks his opponents down, he rains hammer fists and elbows until the referee pulls him off. Overall, he is an extremely technical and intelligent striker.
That coupled with his power, with all eight limbs, is a scary proposition for anyone in this division. He can’t be mistaken for a grappler, but his takedown defense has shown improvement, and he’s proven to be hard to hold down. Whittaker probably won’t look to take him down, but he will be the toughest striking test of Cannonier’s middleweight career so far.
Robert Whittaker has good skills in every department. He’s a well-rounded mixed martial artist, a brown belt in jiu jitsu, has unreal knockout power and creative strikes from both stances, and is as tough as anyone in the UFC. He fights behind his jab and is great at finding his range. He’s comfortable when he’s able to stick and move, take his time and develop his combinations as the the fight goes on.
He’s never really standing still, and is a tough target to land clean shots on. He picks his spots, but is always threatening his signature right overhand. When Whittaker smells blood, he presses forward and sometimes extends himself too far. The only guy to really catch him has been Adesanya, but that guy is on another level. Still, Cannonier is really the most dangerous striker Whittaker will have faced in his career so far, with the exception of Adesanya.
This being a three-round fight plays into Cannonier’s favor. In a five-rounder, Whittaker’s experience could be the deciding factor in the later rounds, but in this one, Cannonier can afford to be more aggressive and pressure Whittaker the way Darren Till showed flashes of doing in their five-round main event this Summer. Whittaker won that fight by decision but it was close at 48-47 across the board.
Whittaker got tagged a few times in that fight, and he cannot afford to do that against Cannonier. Even if he doesn’t get knocked out, he will sustain a lot of damage during this one and it will affect him. Cannonier is beginning to mature as a fighter, will be the first and last to land in most of the exchanges, and we’re confident he’ll emerge leaving no doubt that he is the next in line to challenge for the middleweight championship.
We love him on the money line at -125, and there’s a serious possibility that he comes out and fights a full fifteen-minute masterpiece, so we’ll be leaving something on Cannonier by decision at +400
Our official picks for UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gathje will be available this Saturday 10/24 at 9:00 am EST.