Jared Cannonier only has eyes for the top of the middleweight division right now.
On Saturday night, Cannonier won a split decision over Sean Strickland after a back-and-forth battle in the main event of UFC Vegas 66. The fight was closely contested, with no universal agreement between the judges on rounds and even fellow fighters struggling to determine a clear-cut winner. but Cannonier said he had zero doubt about the outcome heading into the official announcement.
“I definitely thought I won at least three of the five rounds,” Cannonier said at the post-fight press conference. “I felt confident that I won three out of five rounds. On top of that, I felt confident that I won the fight in general.”
For all his confidence, Cannonier was only able to manage a split decision win, with the judges delivering dueling 49-46 scorecards for both he and Strickland. Statistically, the fight was very close, with Cannonier seeming to edge out it out by landing the more damaging power shots. “The Killa Gorilla” acknowledged that Strickland did pose some challenges to him, but said he was prepared to negate Strickland’s game and land the power shots that ultimately won the fight for him.
“I would say he’s good at what he does” Cannonier said. “He’s really good at moving forward, putting that jab out there, and then getting out of the way. If I gave him the look like, ‘Here I come,’ he was already aware, primed, and either ready to counter with his check hook or whatever combination he was going to throw or just move away and avoid it all together. But that was one thing we had been working on leading up to the [Israel] Adesanya fight, entering on our opponents without getting overextended, and once you get in, then you can start opening up with the big strikes that I love so much.”
The win was a critical one for Cannonier. After falling short against Israel Adesanya in his middleweight title shot at UFC 276, another loss may have spelled the end of Cannonier’s title aspirations entirely. Now, Cannonier has another win over a top-10 opponent — one that he hopes will immediately reinsert him back into the title conversation.
“If not a title shot, hopefully the contender’s match,” Cannonier said when asked what he wants next. “That’s what I would hope for. Either a title shot to begin 2023 or the fight that gets me a title shot in middle or late 2023.”
With Alex Pereira unseating Adesanya as the 185-pound king, the middleweight division is suddenly more open than it has been in years, with several fighters jockeying to earn a crack at the new champion.
Unfortunately for Cannonier, he’s still well out of line at the moment, with a rematch between Pereira and Adesanya presumed to be next, and marquee matchups between Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa, plus Marvin Vettori and Roman Dolidze also in the offing. To earn his way back to a title shot, Cannonier will likely have to fight at least once more, but when asked which fight would make the most sense for him, he maintained that “who” doesn’t matter, so long as it gets him where he’s trying to go.
“A contender’s fight,” Cannonier said. “So as long as they say, ‘You fight this person and it’s a contender’s fight. You get a title shot after this one,’ alright, let’s do it.”