Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight hitters Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier will collide this weekend (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) at UFC 254 inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In retrospect, maybe Whittaker didn’t have a dumb gameplan or look “over the hill” in his title loss to Israel Adesanya (watch highlights). “Stylebender” has since proven himself pretty good! Regardless, Whittaker is already back in the win column, and another Top 5 win gives the former champion a solid argument for a rematch. Meanwhile, Cannonier’s move to 185 pounds has proven the correct one. He’s utterly destroyed three straight opponents at the weight class, building momentum quickly as everything appeared to click for “The Killa Gorilla,” who is finally living up to his full potential.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Yoel Romero (UFC 225, UFC 213), Darren Till (UFC on ESPN 14), Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FOX 24), Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 101), Uriah Hall (UFC 193)
Key Losses: Israel Adesanya (UFC 243), Stephen Thompson (UFC 170), Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Whittaker is a punishing striker. He breaks down the lead leg of his opponent with stabbing side kicks, and he’s very good at exploding forward to close distance. If his opponent returns the favor, Whittaker’s check hook is powerful as well.
Opposite Cannonier, Whittaker should look to make this as technical a kickboxing battle as possible. Historically, Cannonier does well against opponents who really try to force the wrestling. They get tired, he maintains his power, and suddenly they’re pretty easy to hit.
Whittaker can mix in the occasional low-energy single leg pick up that he used well against Till, but otherwise, the Aussie is a kickboxer. First and foremost, Whittaker should look to establish his jab. Whittaker may be at a reach disadvantage, but his springiness should help nullify that problem, and Cannonier was once completely flummoxed by Jan Blachowicz’s consistent jab.
Between the linear kicks to the legs and jab, Whittaker has the tools to win at range without leaping forward too often. If instead he convinces Cannonier to come to him, Whittaker is likely to find openings for his counter shots.
Key Wins: Jack Hermansson (UFC Fight Night 160), Anderson Silva (UFC 237) David Branch (UFC 230), Ion Cutelaba (TUF 24 Finale), Cyril Asker (UFC Fight Night 86)
Key Losses: Glover Teixeira (UFC 208), Jan Blachowicz (UFC on FOX 26), Dominick Reyes (UFC Fight Night 129)
Keys to Victory: Regardless of division, Cannonier has always stood out as an athlete. At Heavyweight, he was quicker and more fleet-footed than most of his peers — no surprise, right? Well, he’s still faster than most men two divisions lower, but Cannonier has kept up his big man punching power throughout the weight cuts.
At this point, the last three men to face Whittaker have found success in standing in place and checking his wide swings. Even as Whittaker has grown more aware and worked to address the issue, it seems built into his game: “Bobby Knuckles” lunges forward, and accurate counter punchers can make him pay.
Aside from trying to time Whittaker’s entries, I’d like to see Cannonier keep the pressure high. Rather than reach with punches, Cannonier should focus on cutting off the Octagon and closing in on Whittaker with his footwork. That pressure may push Cannonier into the pocket, which would be great, but improve will also improve the odds that Whittaker makes a mistake.
This should be a title eliminator.
Of course, that depends on Israel Adesanya. “Stylebender” has publicly claimed that he wants to stay at 185 pounds and defend his title, challenge Jan Blachowicz for the Light Heavyweight crown, and beat up Jon Jones at any weight class. The order of those goals is less than certain, which could delay the potential title shot of either man.
The winner deserves a title shot, it’s just unclear if that will happen right away.
On the other hand, the circumstances are a bit different for the defeated fighter. In Whittaker’s case, a loss is two in three. Admittedly, both defeats would come to absolute top-tier Middleweights, but that streak will make it difficult to build momentum moving forward and could even prompt a jump to Light Heavyweight.
As for Cannonier, a loss to a former champion wouldn’t completely derail him. It would take a couple rebound wins, but a bout with “Stylebender” could definitely still produce real interest.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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At UFC 254, Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier will battle in the co-main event. Which man will earn the victory?