Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight brawlers Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier collided this afternoon (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) at UFC 254 inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with 185-pound title shot implications in the line.
Whittaker was already on the road back to a rematch with division kingpin Israel Adesanya, but a win over the No. 2- ranked contender in Cannonier — who has looked like a Middleweight monster since his drop down from Light Heavyweight — would cement his status as the biggest threat looming for “The Last Stylebender.”
And “The Reaper” might have done just that, nearly finishing the super tough Cannonier late, ultimately coming away with a unanimous decision win.
Cannonier came out firing with a thunderous low kick as Whittaker bounced around just outside striking range. Both fighters exchanged low kicks, with Whittaker losing his balance and a brief scramble ensued. Cannonier targeted the Whittaker’s lower half early, switching stances and giving different looks. He connected with a kick to the body, but then Whittaker started to score upstairs with quick, hard combinations. Whittaker whiffed with some wild shots, then tried to score with left jabs down the middle. Cannonier continued to beat up Whittaker’s legs, creating a visible red welt behind the knee on his lead leg. Whittaker slipped in a partially blocked high kick just as time began to wind down in the round.
Whittaker opened the second stanza with a hard right hand, then doubled up the jab, forcing Cannonier to briefly retreat. Cannonier, meanwhile, continued to switch stances and fire off leg kicks from different angles. Whittaker bounced in with a straight hard right hand, which Cannonier countered with one of his own moments later. Whittaker continued to find a home for his jab, causing Cannonier’s eye to start swelling shut. Cannonier didn’t really have an answer for them, and his leg attacks dwindled mid-way through the round, before Whittaker mixed up the action with a takedown attempt. On the break, Cannonier unloaded on the leg kicks, but Whittaker responded upstairs with a hard right hand. Then a double-jab right hand as the round came to a close.
Seemingly down two rounds on the judges scorecards, Cannonier needed a big final round to pull out the win. But it was Whittaker who continued punish Cannonier early with his jab. Then he drilled Cannonier with a one-two combination, followed up with a head kick, that sent him spiraling to the canvas. Whittaker looked to close the show with furious ground-and-pound, but Cannonier was able to defend just enough to keep the referee from stopping it. Whittaker was eventually able to secure full mount along the bottom of then fence, but Cannonier — leaking heavily from his face — gave up his back and was ultimately somehow able to return to his feet. With 90 seconds remaining in the bout, the fighters returned to the center of the Octagon, but it didn’t seem as though Cannonier had much left in the tank. Then he landed a huge shot that wobbled Whittaker with 30 seconds remaining, but he was able to weather the storm, close the disstance, and hold on to see the judges scorrecards.
It was an absolutely great match up, and an even better final round. Both guys had their moments, but Whittaker just had a few more. Whittaker, 29, is far from “over the hill” — he proved that much against Cannonier. And he also proved that he deserves another crack at Adesanya down the road.
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