Power puncher in three weight classes, Jared Cannonier, seeks to dethrone long-time Middleweight kingpin, Israel Adesanya, this Saturday (July 2, 2022) at UFC 276 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Since dropping down to 185 pounds, Cannonier has proven himself one of the world’s best. He’s won five of six bouts, scoring all but one of those wins via knockout. His power is simply ridiculous for the division, as anyone he touches seems to start stumbling. The problem ahead of this match up is that Cannonier has been knocking out wrestlers. Adesanya isn’t going to try to close the distance and grind down Cannonier. No, like Robert Whittaker — the sole aberration in his successful Middleweight run — Cannonier will have to deal with a real slick, rangy kickboxer.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Even while at Heavyweight, Cannonier has always enjoyed shifting stances and playing around with different timing on his shots. He’s a unique and violent striker, one who’s stopped 10 foes via strikes.
For such a powerful puncher, Cannonier spends much time testing the reactions of his opponents, feinting 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’ll even switch stances as he explodes into the hook (GIF). 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.
Cannonier did major damage to Derek Brunson from close quarters (GIF). The finishing sequence began when he broke the clinch with an elbow then stung Brunson again with a backfist as the wrestler was reeling. When Brunson shot in, Cannonier used an overhook and forearm frame to create the A Frame position. That’s an effective way to deny the shot and land hard elbows, which ultimately ended the contest (GIF).
Against Robert Whittaker, Cannonier struggled with his more technical opponent’s footwork and entries. Whittaker’s movement and crafty combinations found their way through Cannonier’s guard much more often, and he avoided most of Cannonier’s big swings. 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.
Kelvin Gastelum’s brand of footwork and quick combinations seem to represent a similar challenge, but this time, Cannonier adjusted well. He hurt Gastelum on several occasions, but he really did his best work on the counter. As Gastelum stepped forward with his piston-like 1-2, Cannonier would keep his feet planted, slip off the center line, and through something hard back in his direction. At one point, he also interrupted Gastelum’s offense with a step elbow (GIF), which was a slick land that showed his mastery of timing.
Historically, wrestling is not a strength of “The Killa Gorilla.” He’s technically scored two takedowns in his UFC career, but both times saw him shove wounded opponents to the floor and finish the fight moments later.
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 any piece of technical development, Cannonier showed against David 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.
Brunson proved the most major test of Cannonier’s wrestling yet, and it’s one he almost failed, as Brunson came damn close to a rear-naked choke in the first round. Brunson was pretty soundly out-wrestling Cannonier, staying one step ahead on transitions. It’s widely exhausting to hold down such a physical talent, however, and once Cannonier does get back up, he doesn’t let opponents off the hook.
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 Glover Teixeira, but he was positionally dominated for pretty much the entire fight.
Cannonier is a major underdog, but if there’s one thing to look for in unlikely upsets, knockout power is a great equalizer. He’ll have to make this fight dirty and likely find positions in the clinch to do damage, but it would be unwise to completely count out a puncher like Cannonier in any match up.
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.
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