If fight fans were unaware of the name Jared Cannonier, reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya let the world know about the impressive knockout artist after Adesanya defended his title at UFC 253 in September.
“I already DM’d Jared Cannonier,” Adesanya said after disposing of Paulo Costa. “He’s a hell of a dude, I love his energy, he’s a beautiful man. And I said, ‘You destroy Robert Whittaker (at UFC 254) and you’re next.’ He’s the one I want to fight next. He deserves it. If he beats Robert Whittaker handily and dominates him, he’s next.”
An endorsement from the man toting UFC gold carries weight and Dana White agreed.
“That’s the fight if Cannonier wins, and I love that about Israel,” the UFC president declared following UFC 253.
Keep in mind, since those statements, Adesanya’s continuous trash talk with Jon Jones has ramped up in recent weeks and has seemingly gotten personal. There has been chatter that a potential Jones vs. Adesanya super fight is in the realm of possibility, but until the UFC makes an announcement or there is any concrete progress in negotiations then Whittaker vs. Cannonier remains a de facto title eliminator.
Whittaker, 29, will need to turn heads in order to warrant a rematch with Adesanya, the man that knocked him out at UFC 243 one year ago. Whittaker edged out Darren Till in an exciting tactical battle back in July as a first step back to reclaiming a title he earned by beating Yoel Romero twice in a row after years spent climbing the ranks first at welterweight then at middleweight.
Cannonier’s journey to title contention was much different.
The 36-year-old made his UFC debut in 2015 as a heavyweight. He showed he had knockout power fighting the sport’s biggest athletes when he flattened Cyril Asker but then decided to move down to the light-heavyweight division.
He took home a Fight of the Night bonus with a win over Ion Cutelaba in his first fight down at 205 pounds but then suffered setbacks at the hands of title contenders Glover Teixeira, Dominick Reyes and current champion Jan Blachowicz.
Those losses that chased him from the 205-pound division were a blessing in disguise because ever since dropping to middleweight Cannonier has looked like a bona fide threat to the throne.
Cannonier is shredded, strong and fast at 185 pounds and still maintains the same one-shot knockout power he had when he used to tip the scales at more than 240 pounds.
He took out David Branch in less than six minutes, battered the legend Anderson Silva with leg kicks then snapped Jack Hermansson impressive winning streak with a Performance of the Night-worthy TKO win.
Cannonier hasn’t fought in nearly 13 months and during his time away from the cage he needed to recover from a torn pectoral muscle. We’ll see if “The Killa Gorilla” is affected by the layoff and injury, or if he looks better than ever and helps prove correct Adesanya who predicted: “I think Jared’s going to dust Robert Whittaker and I look forward to fighting him.”
UFC 254 takes place on Yas Island, aka Fight Island, in Abu Dhabi and this event begins roughly eight hours earlier than typical UFC pay-per-view events.
The card is headlined by a lightweight title unification bout between undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Justin Gaethje.
Here is a look at the full UFC 254 fight lineup.
MAIN CARD (2 pm. ET special start time)
— Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje
— Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier
— Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris
— Jacob Malkoun vs. Phil Hawes
— Lauren Murphy vs. Liliya Shakirova
— Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cuțelaba
— Stefan Struve vs. Tai Tuivasa
— Alex Oliveira vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov
— Da Un Jung vs. Sam Alvey
— Nathaniel Wood vs. Casey Kenney
— Liana Jojua vs. Miranda Maverick
— Joel Alvarez vs. Alexander Yakovlev