“The Killa Gorilla” had an eventful year in 2022, one that saw him secure big wins over Derek Brunson and most recently Sean Strickland at UFC Vegas 66. But perhaps the most important fight of Cannonier’s career was his shot at the UFC middleweight title against Adesanya, and he revealed on The MMA Hour that “right after the fight I went to the locker room and I cried.” It was an emotional release the 38-year-old said he needed following a unanimous decision loss on a night that could’ve changed his life, and he bristled at the notion that crying should be looked down upon as something only done by weak men.
“Crying isn’t a weakness,” Cannonier said on The MMA Hour. “Crying is a biological thing that we do to release stress, relieve tension. It’s not a weakness. So the fact that the world has led us to believe that our natural bodily functions are bad for us, it’s why I don’t listen to people. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t back there sobbing and needing a shoulder to cry on, needing somebody to hold me and a t** to suck on or anything like that. It was just something I did to deal with it. It was a frustrating cry. I tensed up, it was frustrating. But I wouldn’t say it was a sad cry or anything like that. It was more frustrating.
“But on the way home, I was fine,” he added. “I wasn’t like still bumming out about the fight or anything. It was over. So when I was on the way back to the hotel, I was fine. It sucked, yeah. But I wouldn’t say the sting was still there. It was just a moment in time. I don’t hang onto these moments like that and let them drag me down or weigh on me like that. So if it’s not going to help me, there’s no point in hanging onto these thoughts or emotions.”
Cannonier (16-6) isn’t alone. Adesanya recently told MMA Fighting that he, too, cried backstage after UFC 276’s main event, despite coming out on the winning side. Adesanya said he was upset at his performance because of the expectations he puts on himself.
Nonetheless, Cannonier said he looks back on his loss to Adesanya with “no regrets.” He’s watched the bout several times in the months since and said he used many of the lessons he learned to help secure his decision win over Strickland in the UFC’s final fight of 2022.
Cannnonier added that he was surprised by all the criticism levied online at Adesanya after their technical five-round battle, but ultimately he knows that criticism means little.
“I don’t think it was fair,” Cannonier said. “I mean, we were both in there fighting. But he took the criticism from a bunch of ignorant people. I don’t think the people who were criticizing him — [they] don’t know what they’re watching. So I don’t really listen to what people say. I hold myself in high regard and I don’t [listen] anybody else out there.
“The only opinion that matters is the one I have of myself. On top of that, it was two high-level fighters fighting at the highest level. People want to see people going in there, they want to see blood and visceral and people getting smashed up against the fence and getting beat up and stuff like that. But when you’ve got two guys who are good at not letting that happen to them, that’s what you’re going to get — you may get a fight that looks like that. But I had fun in there. It was a good experience for me.
“It was a good learning experience, another five rounds from that one and this one [against Strickland],” Cannonier continued. “I think that puts me at about 59 minutes of ring time this year, which is really good for me. In the last couple of years, I haven’t had a lot of ring time, so it’s a lot of good experience I’ve been getting this year.”
Cannonier hopes that level of activity continues into 2023. He said he’s more than willing to step into enemy territory for a short-notice rematch against Robert Whittaker on Feb. 12 at UFC 284 following Paulo Costa’s recent withdrawal from the bout. Cannonier and Whittaker previously met in Oct. 2020 at UFC 254, with Cannonier losing a unanimous decision.
If that doesn’t happen, Cannonier is keeping his options open.
“Naturally, whoever gets me closer to the title. At this point I’m ranked No. 3, a contender’s match would be nice — or a fight for some money,” Cannonier said. “I’m starting to rethink my approach to this fighting game. There’s a bunch of guys who are in the top 10 [who] I would like to get my hands on, get an opportunity to earn some checks.
“I wouldn’t say I changed my approach [once I got highly-ranked], I’ll still fight whoever. But I had to be more career-oriented, thinking about my career and not just fighting whoever they they asked me to fight. But I get paid pretty good, so I would love to fight somebody not [at] the level of a champion, and maybe that’ll make my ability to get the win a lot easier. But not to discredit anybody in the middleweight division. We’re all animals. We’re all beasts out there. We’re all doing what we can to be the best. So, whoever.”