Jared Cannonier has his own fight booked at UFC 254, but in his mind, he’s preparing to compete one month earlier.
At UFC 253 on Sept. 26, UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will put his title up for grabs against undefeated Brazilian challenger Paulo Costa. While both fighters appear healthy and ready to compete, the coronavirus pandemic has presented any number of obstacles, with many bouts scrapped in the weeks or days leading up to an event.
“I got my contender’s fight,” Cannonier told MMA Fighting when referencing his upcoming showdown with former champion Robert Whittaker. “If it wasn’t the contender’s fight, it would have been the title fight. At this point in time, it still potentially could be.
“If anything happens with those guys, I’m more than willing and ready, that’s my plan. That’s the plan I have ahead of me. I’m getting ready for that date, Sept. 26. That’s the date I’m getting ready for. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll be more than ready for Oct. 24.”
To be clear, Cannonier absolutely doesn’t wish anything bad to befall Adesanya or Costa, but he’s staying ready to fight just in case either one of them are unable to make it on that particular date.
He just understands the volatile nature of injuries and other issues that often times prevent a fight from happening, which is why he’s preparing for a title bout in September even if it doesn’t actually happen.
“Given the times with COVID-19,” Cannonier said, “we’ve seen fights change, main events change, what, 60 percent [of the time] was it last year from the original booking. I’m ready. I’ve been ready since my pec tore. Now it’s time.
“That’s where I stand right now. I’m more than ready. That’s not going to be a hard weight cut. It’s not going to be a last minute thing for me. I’m going to be ready for that date. That’s just it.”
It’s been almost one year since Cannonier last fought in large part due to a torn pectoral muscle that forced him into surgery. Upon his return, the 36-year-old contender booked the fight with Whittaker in October, but he’s been so happy to get back to training that he’s itching for the chance to compete even sooner.
“I’m ready for that,” Cannonier said about fighting at UFC 253. “At the end of the day, I’m really glad to be back training more than anything. I have a lot of getting to the gym. I have a lot of fun working and training and learning and trying to figure out the different aspects of my craft.
“These big fights and stuff are just field tests. In my mind, bigger things are going to happen after the fights. That’s really what I’m preparing for. I’m just going to have as much fun along the way.”
If the middleweight title fight goes ahead as scheduled, Cannonier knows he’ll almost certainly face the winner if he gets past Whittaker in October.
It doesn’t matter much to him who’s holding the title after the dust settles at UFC 253, and he’s not one for making predictions, because he believes Adesanya and Costa is a remarkably even fight on paper.
“When I break it down, I don’t favor one over the other,” Cannonier said. “They’re both good in their regard. So they’re both good at employing their skills. Their matchup is a pretty beautiful matchup. I’m very interested to see how it goes. I’m very interested to see the reactions Izzy employs against Costa’s assault. I’m interested to see how Costa implements his assault. Because he’s going to go in there and try to work Izzy over.
“I know it’s going to be fun to watch. But do I favor one over the other? No, both of those guys can win that fight. Both of those guys are at the top of the tree. I definitely expect to see a really good fight.”
Regardless of who wins, Cannonier just wants his opportunity to fight for the title, and the opponent at that point is inconsequential to him.
“That’s all that matters,” Cannonier said about his potential title shot. “But good luck to both of them.”