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UFC Copenhagen, The Morning After: The unlikely ascension of Jared Cannonier

Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

Jared Cannonier closed at just about a 2-1 underdog to Jack Hermansson. In enemy territory — Denmark is certainly a bit closer to Sweden than it is to Cannonier’s home base of Phoenix, Arizona — Cannonier shucked off takedown attempts, scrambled from bad positions, and put the hurt on Hermansson to score a second-round knockout win.

Once again, Cannonier pulled through as an underdog, the latest unlikely result in a pretty long sequence of unlikely events.

Let’s take a step back in time to 2015, when Cannonier was a Heavyweight newcomer with seven professional fights to his name. He debuted against Shawn Jordan, an underrated Heavyweight who knocked him out in the first round. Already, there was much to be concerned about, factors that hurt the odds of Cannonier ever finding success as a contender.

First and foremost, Cannonier was training out of some little-known gym in Alaska, and all of his previous victories came in The Last Frontier. Equally as important was that Cannonier was a late starter, a man who didn’t take his first professional fight until the age of 27. A couple years prior to his debut, Cannonier weighed more than 300 pounds. In truth, this all reads like a recipe for a UFC washout.

Cannonier did return to better success, picking up a knockout win of his own before dropping to Light Heavyweight — a division as desperate for new contenders back in 2016 as it is today. He inspired hope further by walking down and beating up a true prospect in Ion Cutelaba, but then it all fell apart: Cannonier lost three of his next four bouts, revealing some glaring weaknesses in his technical game.

So at the age of 34, having lost his two previous fights, Cannonier dropped weight classes a second time. Rarely is this a strategy that works as intended. Often, weigh class changes produce the opposite result and are frequently desperate move made from a fighter in dire need of a career renaissance.

Against all odds, Cannonier has thrived. He was thrown to the wolves against David Branch, who was still ranked in the Top 10 and coming off a knockout victory over Thiago Santos. Cannonier pummeled him, forcing the veteran to exhaust himself in pursuit of the takedown before clubbing him with power shots. He followed it up with a dissecting Anderson Silva’s lead leg, showcasing the type of patience and precision that makes a contender.

Still, the 35 year old entered last night’s main event slot as a significant underdog. It wasn’t hard to see why: Hermansson was on a hell of a tear, and his expertise on the mat seemed the perfect answer to Cannonier’s powerful kickboxing.

Had Cannonier fought like he did opposite Branch, it would have been. Instead, Cannonier put on the smartest, most measured display of kickboxing and takedown defense yet. On the mat, Cannonier scrambled like he was a lifelong wrestler, escaping to the fence and limp-arming his way out of bad positions. On the feet, Cannonier jabbed and slashed the calf, ripping apart Hermansson’s base quickly. The MMA Lab deserves a lot of credit for their coaching, because Cannonier has neatly picked up most of the gym’s defining habits and made great use of them.

I don’t know that Cannonier will capture the title or even fight for it. His best two victories came against similar stylistic opponents, men desperate to land the takedown and avoid exchanges. The top of the division will not fight with such a strategy, and he may still prove vulnerable to getting boxed up (similar to his 2017 loss to Jan Blachowicz).

It ultimately doesn’t matter though. Relatively ate in his life, Cannonier was able to discover his talent for martial arts. He’s taken the necessary steps to make the most of it. There was no reason to believe that Cannonier would be a top five-ranked contender in 2019, but “Killa Gorilla” made it happen. His success is a testament to his hard work and efforts, and it’s also a reason why MMA remains so much fun.

For complete UFC Fight Night 160: “Hermansson vs. Cannonier” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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