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Jared Cannonier sees exodus of former middleweight contenders as rebirth of the division

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As Jared Cannonier prepares for his main event fight against Jack Hermansson this weekend, he can’t help but notice the massive changes to the middleweight division over the past few months.

Former champions like Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold are gone after making the move up to 205 pounds, with top contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza joining them after he opted to take his next fight at light heavyweight as well.

Even stalwarts of the division like Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith have made a permanent move to 205 pounds.

The exodus of so many top fighters might make it seem like the cupboard is bare at 185 pounds, but Cannonier promises that couldn’t be further from the truth.

He doesn’t have to look any further than his fight against Hermansson, a recent war between Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa and the upcoming title bout pitting Robert Whittaker against Israel Adesanya as proof that middleweight is better than ever.

“We just had [Yoel] Romero and Paulo Costa fight and this fight is happening now,” Cannonier said when speaking with MMA Fighting. “The week after that you’ve got the middleweight title fight. I think it’s going to create a lot of buzz for the middleweight division, (and) a lot of excitement for the fights that are going down.

“It’s like a changing of the guard, or the next generation of middleweight greats. It’s really cool that my name is in there. I still see myself as a normal guy, so it’s cool to see my name up there. I’m enjoying the ride, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

That so many former middleweight champions and contenders have moved divisions also invites more opportunities for the guys who’ve been clamoring for a shot at the spotlight.

Not only did Cannonier travel to Brazil to face former champion Anderson Silva in his last fight, but he’s now headlining the first ever UFC card in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The headline spot for this fight – just ahead of the middleweight title bout at UFC 243 – puts Cannonier in a uniquely advantageous position. A win over Hermansson could put him in second in line for title shot, with Costa the next likely contender.

“Three of the guys who have been in the top-five, top-10 of the division have gone up (in weight),” Cannonier said. “It definitely raises the stakes on this fight. Potential title contender implications. We can’t be distracted by that. Jack Hermansson is a tough guy; we know what he likes to do and that’s what I have to prepare for.

“I’ve said it before, the way things are going for me in my career, it’s only a matter of time before I get a title shot. Again, another reason for me not to concern myself with what’s happening after this fight.”

While his focus has to remain on Hermansson and getting the job done this weekend, Cannonier knows an impressive showing here will make all the difference in getting the UFC’s attention.

“I feel that, especially given the current climate in the division, a good performance could definitely get me a title shot next, or even a contender’s fight next,” Cannonier said. “That’s just my style. My style, I come out there and put on exciting performance. I go out there to finish guys. I’m not here to play MMA or spar with my opponents. I’m here to finish my opponents.

“The UFC likes that. I know (UFC President) Dana (White) really likes that. I know he likes guys who go out there and go for the win, trying to get the finish, and guys who are devastating.”