Knockout artist, Jared Cannonier, will square off opposite The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) champ, Kelvin Gastelum, this Saturday (Aug. 21, 2021) at UFC Vegas 34 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Cannonier commands more attention than the average contender. The soft-spoken former Heavyweight appeared in the Middleweight division ready to go, immediately making a splash by knocking off a trio of established and skilled opposition in violent fashion. In short, his rush toward the 185-pound crown was going swimmingly, and fans were already excited about a potential showdown vs. Israel Adesanya ... until Robert Whittaker intervened and stopped the rise.
Fortunately, Cannonier is still ranked inside the Top 5, and any match up he’s a part of is certainly worth watching. Let’s take another look at his skill set before he attempts to return to the win column:
While competing at larger weight classes, Cannonier never failed to hold his own in exchanges with power shots. However, his tendency to shift stances and play with timing always appeared the style of a lighter man, and it’s only become more effective for him at 185 pounds.
Of course, it helps that his knockout power has only grown more effective against similarly-sized foes.
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 one-two combination 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.
In Cannonier’s last two bouts, he really committed to his distance kickboxing. Against Jack Hermansson, it worked beautifully, but Whittaker’s own craft in that realm proved too much for “The Killa Gorilla.”
I would definitely point to Cannonier’s win over Hermansson as his technical best. As he methodically stalked, Cannonier did not overcommit or leave himself available to easy strikes. Instead, he established his jab, started landing clean with the low kick, then built off those long range threats with lead leg too. Cannonier looked for an overhand or big hook every once in a while, but it was clear that his pokes from distance were doing damage already. Meanwhile, he pretty actively checked Hermansson’s kicks and kept his head moving to avoid the counter jabs.
Early in the second, Hermansson’s takedown attempt saw him dive into an uppercut, and that was that (GIF).
Last time out, however, Whittaker’s movement and crafty combinations found their way through Cannonier’s guard much more often ... but that Whittaker guy is pretty good! There were some silver linings though: Cannonier still did solid work with his low kick (GIF), and he briefly stunned the former champion with a jab too.
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.
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. For one, dropping to Middleweight helped a lot! 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.
The Hermansson bout showed further improvement against a better wrestler. Cannonier still leaves his hips a bit available, but he did better to bump with his hip immediately as Hermansson wrapped up the legs. That bump stalled his foe’s momentum momentarily, allowing Cannonier to use the overhook to get his hips further back. Once fully engaged in his defensive wrestling, Cannonier did an excellent job of either jamming the head low or working his own forehead between his hips and Hermansson to nullify the shot.
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.
Losing to Whittaker certainly hurt Cannonier’s momentum, but a rebound knockout win opposite Kelvin Gastelum could surely recover a great deal of it! Plus, there’s still interest in a Cannonier vs. “Stylebender” match up, so a quick couple wins would have Cannonier immediately back in the title picture.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 34 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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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.