Upstart Middleweight contender, Jared Cannonier, will throw down with hometown favorite, Jack Hermansson, this Saturday (Sept. 28, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 160 from inside Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Has Cannonier finally found his home at 185 pounds? The 35-year-old Texan has always shown plenty of talent, but that didn’t always result in victories, as Cannonier lost four of his initial seven bouts in the Octagon. Admittedly, he’s fought some pretty stiff competition since the beginning, but the pieces just were not fitting properly for “Killa Gorilla.” A switch in fight camps (to the excellent MMA Lab) and weight class seems to have changed things. Cannonier has since scored the two best victories of his career, rising to No. 9 in the rankings in the process.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Cannonier did not look particularly small at either Heavyweight or Light Heavyweight, but he never fought like his peers either. Since the beginning, Cannonier has shown an aptitude for stance switches and half-speed punches.
For such an explosive, powerful puncher, Cannonier spends much time testing the reactions of his opponents. He feints often. More than just the usual shoulder pump, Cannonier likes to halfheartedly toss out individual strikes slowly. In addition to helping him get a read on his foe’s defensive reaction, Cannonier also gets his opponent accustomed to slower strikes.
When he does commit and show off his speed, it’s even more surprising as a result.
Outside of that particular quirk, Cannonier doesn’t really overcomplicate things. He has a long, hard jab that is fairly active. On the whole, Cannonier likes to be stalking his opponent, testing reactions and mixing in that fast jab.
Often, Cannonier does strong work with the low kick. He’s been going to the calf more often in the last couple years, which is both a sign of the times and a result of his work at the MMA Lab, who definitely deserve some of the credit in popularizing that strike. The jab and low kick play off each other very well, as a quick jab can block the eyes momentarily, allowing the kick to be thrown immediately or allowing Cannonier to angle a bit to his left before digging into the thigh/calf.
Against a Southpaw counter striker in Anderson Silva, Cannonier adjusted quite well. From the first bell, he was feinting actively and kicking Silva’s leg, punishing his foe’s wide stance as Silva tried to get a read on his opponent. Cannonier was doing everything correctly when a single low kick to the inside of the leg suddenly ended the contest (GIF).
Cannonier throws with real power from the pocket. Much of the time, it’s a simple 1-2 or jab-overhand that accomplish the job. Sometimes, Cannonier will switch Southpaw before firing off a one-two combination. Cannonier will also mix in some trickery in the pocket, such as doubling up on his right hand. Against David Branch, for example, Cannonier at one point stepped into Southpaw with his right hook, following up the combination with more Southpaw right hooks, a left uppercut, and finally a spin kick (GIF).
Cannonier likes to sometimes leap forward with a big hook, which will land him in the clinch on occasion. He’s proven himself quite violent from that position, as Cannonier will quickly pummel into a double-collar tie and smash the body with knees. In addition, he dropped Nick Roehrick with a great elbow on the break.
Defensively, Cannonier is something of a risk taker. He wants to be the fighter moving forward, and this has troubled him against more technical strikers in the past. However, he did show a great deal of patience and skill against Silva, so it definitely seems like he’s improving in that regard.
Historically, wrestling is not a strength of “The Killa Gorilla.” He’s scored just a single takedown in his UFC career, a late fight reversal opposite an already stunned Roehrick that was pretty much just a push.
Defending takedowns has always been the larger goal for Cannonier, and he’s improved in that regard. In this week’s technique highlight, we discuss how Cannonier turned failed takedowns from David Branch into his own offense.
More than anything technical development, Cannonier showed against Branch the combined powers of determination, strength, and excellent conditioning. Branch managed to take down Cannonier several times. At one point, he even secured mount and a two-on-one wrist control. Yet regardless of position, Cannonier single-mindedly found his way to the fence, using it to help him stand and scrape Branch off.
After a few minutes of this exchange, Branch was fatigued, whereas Cannonier was ready to throw with power.
At the same time, it was worrying how consistently Branch was able to get in on his opponent’s hips. Part of that can be excused due to Cannonier’s game plan: he was extremely aggressively and likely looking to tire Branch out. However, if Hermansson finds those same positions with that type of frequency, Cannonier is in for a rather rough night.
Cannonier has yet to attempt a submission inside the Octagon, and as explained above, his goal when put on his back is to wall-walk to his feet. When fully pinned to his back, Cannonier has not displayed much in terms of offensive jiu-jitsu. He does deserve credit for surviving three rounds beneath a skilled black belt in Teixeira, but he was positionally dominated for pretty much the entire fight.
Cannonier has passed a pair of major tests in his two Middleweight contests, and he’s shown genuine improvement in the process. This is yet another step up, a chance to break into the top five and introduce himself to the title mix. At 35 years of age in his first main event slot, this is something of make-or-break for his title aspirations.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.