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Jared Cannonier: UFC 271 headliners Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker ‘just holding a spot for me’

HOUSTON — Jared Cannonier sees himself as a main event player.

Saturday’s UFC 271 co-main event sees Cannonier, the No. 6 middleweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, taking on No. 4 Derek Brunson in a bout that will likely decide the next challenger for the UFC’s 185-pound title.

The person holding the title will also be decided Saturday as champion Israel Adesanya defends his title in a rematch against Robert Whittaker in the headliner at Toyota Center.

“I can’t really make that prediction, but based off of the last fight, one would have to say Izzy has more of a chance of making it happen again,” Cannonier said at UFC 271 media day on Wednesday. “That’s not to take anything away from Robert. He was the champ once before. … He is who he is and he’s been at the top for as long as he’s been at the top for a good reason.

“So both of those guys are high-level fighters. Some of the best in the UFC, let alone the world. And they’re just holding a spot for me.”

Cannonier emerged as an immediate contender after moving down from the heavyweight division, defeating former World Series of Fighting champion David Branch by second-round TKO at UFC 230 and then following that up with TKO victories over the legendary Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson.

“The Killa Gorilla” is 4-1 at middleweight (his lone loss a unanimous decision to Whittaker) and he expects a win over Brunson to place him in a fight with Adesanya or Whittaker. He didn’t make a firm prediction for the UFC 271 main event, though he’s confident that he’ll be seeing one of those fighters soon.

Watch Cannonier’s full media day scrum above in which he also discusses Brunson’s assessment of his skills, his thoughts on teammate Benson Henderson’s recent win and retirement talk, and whether he might fight in other divisions again.