Jared Cannonier had no desire to delay his return to action after a long layoff following a loss and multiple surgeries to repair a broken arm but he also wasn’t all that interested in facing a lower ranked opponent either.
Despite any potential hesitation, Cannonier ultimately accepted a showdown with Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC Vegas 34 main event and he definitely had a fight on his hands for five consecutive rounds. In the end, Cannonier still managed to win a unanimous decision, which put him back on track following a setback to former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in his last outing.
“Any win is good,” Cannonier said at the UFC Vegas 34 post-fight press conference. “I feel good after that win. Took a little bit of damage but I’m not broken so I can go home and hug my kids and be able to play with them come Monday and stuff like that. So I’m happy.”
While “The Killa Gorilla” was able to connect with the more damaging shots including a jaw-dropping knockdown in the third round, Gastelum refused to go away and made it a battle for all 25 minutes.
Cannonier commended Gastelum for his performance, especially a slick jab that was giving him a headache throughout the fight.
“I knew his jab was pretty long and I don’t want to say hard to read but I guess I’ll say hard to read,” Cannonier said. “He caught me with a couple of jabs. Inside of my lip is pretty mangled. He got my eye. He threw those overhand lefts were pretty hard, even though I blocked most of them for the most part. I got some welting on my forehead. I feel like Quark from ‘Star Trek’ but I’m happy. I got the win. Thank goodness for that. I got the ‘W’ and two checks.”
During his post-fight interview in the cage, Cannonier told former two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier that he was “broke” and needed to fight again so getting his show and win bonus was obviously paramount.
With that said, there was no doubt in Cannonier’s mind that he had done enough to secure the victory despite Gastelum’s best attempts to eke out an upset.
“I could say there’s always that tension when there’s a decision but I knew I won that decision,” Cannonier said. “I knew I had at least the last three rounds. After I knocked him down, I felt I took the momentum and I maintained it for the most part. Not necessarily any concern.”
With this latest win secured and a 4-1 record overall at middleweight, Cannonier would love to jump directly into a title fight next but he understands that’s highly unlikely to happen.
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is already expected to face Whittaker in a rematch after they first met in 2019 but the title bout won’t take place until sometime in early 2022.
Travel restrictions in New Zealand due to the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented Adesanya from booking an earlier date, which means the title fight will have to wait until he’s ready to compete again.
That means Cannonier will be stuck on the outside looking in, which will likely lead him into another fight but at this point he’s only interested in opponents who can guarantee him a title shot afterwards.
“It’s either title or contender,” Cannonier said. “It was supposed to be [Paulo] Costa but that didn’t happen. I really needed to fight. I don’t think Izzy and Robert are going to fight until next year.
“So that’s what four, five, six months even? And then another three, four months after that? I can’t wait that long. So who knows, I might end up taking a fight.”
With Paulo Costa matched up against Marvin Vettori in October, Cannonier could potentially face the winner of that fight but another interesting option would be the victor in the upcoming main event showdown between Darren Till and Derek Brunson on Sept. 4.
Till has gone back and forth with Adesanya numerous times over the years with both middleweights desiring that fight to happen in the future, which makes the always outspoken British slugger a high valued opponent for anybody facing him.
Meanwhile, Brunson is riding a four-fight win streak and a victory over Till would almost certainly put him near title contention as well.
That all adds up to another possible opponent for Cannonier as he seeks to earn a paycheck and a win that will guarantee him a title shot sooner rather than later.
“A contender [is what I want],” Cannonier said. “If they give me a name — ‘you win, you get the shot’ ±— OK. Easy.
“Is [Darren Till vs. Derek Brunson] a contender’s fight? Well then yeah, [I’d fight the winner].”