After going undefeated in seven pro bouts, (nine if you include his amateur record) Jared Cannonier was signed to an exclusive contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Up until that point, Cannonier’s fights had exclusively taken place in the state of Alaska. Stepping into the top MMA promotion would undoubtedly be a massive step up in competition.
Jared Cannonier: From Alaska to the UFC
Cannonier’s UFC debut would be a heavyweight bout against knockout artist and MMA veteran Shawn Jordan. At the time, Jordan held victories over the likes of Derrick Lewis, Pat Barry, Lavar Johnson, and Mike Russo to name a few. Twelve of his sixteen wins came by way of knockout. Jordan wasn’t a small heavyweight either. He was a former LSU football player who held a 610-pound bench press record. He came into the bout against Cannonier at 261 pounds. Cannonier weighed in at 235 pounds. Despite doing reasonably well on the feet, Cannonier absorbed a right hand over the back of the ear and went down. He officially lost his UFC debut via KO at 2:57 of the first round.
After a broken rib forced him to pull out of his next bout, Cannonier sat out for 15 months before he fought again. His next opponent would be a UFC debutant in Cyril Asker. Asker was riding a five-fight winning streak. He had also relinquished a regional belt when he signed with the UFC. Asker’s ability to put his punches and takedowns together represented some interesting challenges for Cannonier. Despite normally being an undersized heavyweight, Cannonier weighed in at 265 pounds for this bout.
A couple of minutes into the fight, Cannonier landed a wide left hook that floored Asker. Asker remained conscious, so Cannonier began dropping hammer punches. When the punches failed to finish the job, Cannonier began throwing powerful elbows. “I put all my weight into those elbows,” Cannonier would later recall. That extra mass surely came in handy because the heavy elbows quickly rendered Asker unconscious. “My first win in the octagon is possibly gonna be the biggest win until I get that belt. Probably not at heavyweight, cause I’m not a big heavyweight. So I’ll definitely be dieting and getting down.” Despite a dominant victory and a Performance of the Night Bonus, Cannonier set his sights on 205 pounds.
The Palms Casino Resort would play host to the TUF 24 Finale. On the card, Jared Cannonier made his light-heavyweight debut against Ion Cutelaba. For the first time in his fight career, Cannonier took time off from his day job to focus solely on training.
Cutelaba had a lot of stats on his side. At 22-year-old, he was a full 10 years younger than Cannonier. He also had a 92% finishing rate, 10 first-round finishes, seven finishes in under 30 seconds, and two knockouts in under 10 seconds. It’s no wonder that Cannonier came in as a +185 underdog. Cutelaba also had a background in Greco-Roman wrestling and Combat Sambo. And if all of that wasn’t intimidating enough, Cutelaba had a natural propensity for confrontation, violence, and showmanship. Jon Anik reported having wound up in an elevator next to Cutelaba. Cutelaba took one look at Anik and started pounding a blow-up doll with a picture of Cannonier’s face taped to it. He also painted himself green like ‘The Incredible Hulk’ at the TUF 24 Finale weigh-ins.
Cannonier vs Cutelaba
During Bruce Buffer’s-fighter intros, Cutelaba walked across the cage, got within inches of Cannonier’s face, and did a throat slash motion. Neither man broke eye contact during the staredown. You could feel the intensity. The fight started and Jared threw the first strike in the form of an outside leg kick. But within 20 seconds, Cutelaba stormed Cannonier with a barrage of heavy punches and a head kick. Cannonier slowed the attack with a well-timed right hand. Cutelaba exhibited a great deal of ferocity, but Cannonier appeared largely unfazed. It became clear that neither of these men were willing to be outdone by the other. After getting multiple takedowns but failing to keep Cannonier down, Cutelaba started slowing. By the end of the first round, Cutelaba was backstepping while Cannonier was coming forward.
Before the start of the second round, Cannonier was back to staring at Cutelaba across the cage. This time, he had his hands on his hips. Though this stance can sometimes indicate exhaustion, this didn’t seem to be the case with Cannonier. He looked more like Superman standing atop a getaway car while scowling at bank robbers trying to make their escape.
The second round was similar to the first, with one key difference. Cutelaba appeared to be getting tired. Cannonier even finished the final seconds on top of the wrestling and sambo specialist. Though Cutelaba showed heart and determination, he was far too fatigued to take over in the third. Halfway through the final round, Cannonier had completely taken over. He even did the unthinkable and walked Cutelaba down with his fists balled at his sides. He let Cutelaba hit him squarely on the jaw and wasn’t the slightest bit rattled. Jared Cannonier defeated Ion Cutelaba via unanimous decision. Both men were awarded fight of the night honors. This was Cannonier’s second Performance of the Night Bonus in three fights.
“You want to get booked in high profile fights? This is how you get it done!” Brian Stann’s words during Cannonier’s previous fight couldn’t have been more accurate. Jared Cannonier had earned himself a top 10 fighter in Glover Teixeira. At the time, Teixeira was ranked number seven in the world. A victory over the UFC veteran would be earth-shattering.
If the Ion Cutelaba fight put Cannonier on the map, then Glover Teixeira surely took him off. This bout was largely uneventful and one-sided. Though Cannonier had a few of his own moments in the bout, Teixeira utilized his grappling prowess to keep Cannonier consistently defending from his back. Cannonier survived the full three rounds, but this fight illuminated a glaring weakness that hadn’t yet been overcome. As Joe Rogan pointed out during the broadcast, much of what limited Cannonier appeared to be his inexperience. Glover Teixeira defeated Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision.
This next bout was taken on short notice. Cannonier was originally scheduled to take on Steve Bossé, but at the last minute, Bossé had to pull out. Stepping in 72 hours prior to fight day, Nick Roehrick would make his promotional debut with the UFC. Roehrick was undefeated at 7-0, but that changed on the night he faced the “Killa Gorilla.” Though Roehrick showed admirable determination, Cannonier TKO’d the UFC debutant at 2:08 of the third round. It should also be noted that about a month after the bout, Roehrick tested positive for clomiphene and its metabolite, 4-hydroxyclomiphene. He was subsequently suspended for one year by USADA and no longer competes in the UFC.
After finishing Roerick, Cannonier called for a bout against famed kickboxer, Gökhan Saki. The matchup never came to fruition, but he did get a powerful striker in Jan Blachowicz. Blachowicz was ranked number 15 in the world, and Cannonier was now ranked at 14. Though Cannonier never succumbed to the power of Blachowicz, he was simply outstruck in the fight.
Blachowicz effectively worked behind the jab, and by doing so, he dictated much of the contest. Cannonier had his moments and even won a round, but there was a clear victor. Jan Blachowics defeated Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision. The loss to Blachowicz left Cannonier with a split record of 2-2 at 205 pounds. There was a size discrepancy becoming evident each time Cannonier competed in this weight class. In the past, Cannonier mentioned that he could make 185 pounds. But before he tried a new weight class, Cannonier would take one more fight at 205.
As we all learned from the Jon Jones fight, Dominick Reyes is a dangerous light-heavyweight. He’s also big for the weight class. Jared Cannonier is arguably small for light-heavyweight. In their clash, Cannonier hit Reyes with some heavy overhand rights. Both men seemed determined to move forward. This would make things quite entertaining for as long as the fight lasted. But Cannonier, unfortunately, had a lot of odds stacked against him–size and power being two of them. Dominick Reyes defeated Jared Cannonier via TKO at 2:55 of round one. Cannonier’s next fight would be down at 185 pounds.
Jared Cannonier was given a top 10 fighter in his middleweight debut. His opponent would be the number seven ranked David Branch. The former WSOF champ-champ was coming off a KO victory over a dangerous knockout artist in Thiago Santos. Branch would undoubtedly be a stiff test, but Cannonier was up for the challenge. Cannonier looked absolutely shredded at weigh-ins. The eye test indicated he had found the perfect weight class. The result of the fight would echo that sentiment as well.
David Branch tried to get Cannonier to the ground five different times in the first round. Though he completed three takedowns, he was unable to keep Cannonier down, nor could he mount any significant offense. When the second round came, Cannonier landed an overhand right that sent Branch tumbling to the canvas. Cannonier followed up with some ground-and-pound, and that was all she wrote. Jared Cannonier defeated David Branch via TKO at 39 seconds of the second round. Cannonier had finally broken into the top 10.
In what would assuredly be his most high-profile fight to date, Cannonier was booked to face the consensus greatest middleweight of all time, Anderson Silva. Cannonier would be in hostile territory as the fight was taking place in Silva’s home nation of Brazil. Cannonier was more than willing to stand with ‘The Spider,’ which made the matchup interesting. He threw quick and powerful leg kicks from the jump. In the final seconds of the first round, Silva collapsed in pain after Cannonier landed another inside leg kick. Referee Herb Dean spared Silva any additional damage by waving off the fight. Jared Cannonier joined Chris Weidman when he became the second person to finish Anderson Silva in the UFC.
Jared Cannonier vs Brazilian Crowd
Cannonier celebrated to a chorus of boos while Silva writhed in agony on the mat. Being public enemy number one in Brazil, Cannonier had a chip on his shoulder. Though he consoled Silva and shook his hand afterward, he wasn’t interested in showing Brazilian fans the same courtesy. “If they don’t respect me, I don’t got no respect for them. And that’s just it.” Jared Cannonier was well within his rights to reflect the mass negativity right back at the crowd. It’s that kind of attitude that has probably helped Cannonier overcome the odds. He isn’t one to listen to the crowd. He listens to himself.
If Cannonier listened to what people said, he might have had a tough time accepting his next fight. Swedish fighter Jack Hermansson would be the favorite against Cannonier in the main event of UFC Copenhagen. Hermansson was a submission specialist riding a four-fight winning streak. His most recent bout was a breakout performance where he defeated Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza. Not only was this Cannonier’s first UFC headliner bout, but it was his first top-five opponent. A victory would place him among the elite in the division. It would push his name into middleweight title fight conversations. But he had to win in order for this to happen. And Jack Hermansson was a tough outing.
Hermansson came out aggressively. He threw leg kicks and several punches right away. Within 15 seconds, he dove in for a takedown and pressed Cannonier against the cage. Cannonier held his own and circled off the fence. Keeping Cannonier on the ground would be huge for Hermansson. Equally as huge for Cannonier, would be keeping the fight standing. This was a tense battle for position. Hermansson drove forward for a double leg, but quickly circled and suplexed Cannonier! Hermansson had Cannoniers back, but Cannonier scrambled to get back up yet again. Relentless in his pursuit, Hermansson tripped Cannonier to the ground. But Cannonier held onto the wizard and got the fight back up. The rest of the round would be spent on the feet.
Cannonier came out in the second-round smiling. After preventing Hermansson from keeping him down, he exuded confidence. His corner said Hermansson was likely tired and they were right. Less than 15 seconds into the stanza, Cannonier landed an uppercut that sent Hermansson fumbling backward to the canvas. Cannonier chased him down and began landing his powerful ground and pound. Hermansson couldn’t recover in time. Jared Cannonier defeated Jack Hermansson via TKO at 27 seconds of the second round. The +230 underdog defeated a top-five opponent in his first main event. The finish earned Cannonier his fourth Performance of the Night Bonus. Jared Cannonier had officially arrived in a big way.
In the UFC, Cannonier is 1-1 as a heavyweight, 2-3 as a light-heavyweight, and 3-0 as a middleweight. He was booked to face off against former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, but Whittaker pulled out due to personal matters. Once that happened, all signs pointed to Cannonier facing Darren Till next. Unfortunately, Cannonier tore a pectoral muscle and had to withdraw from competing as well.
Cannonier is currently ranked number three among UFC middleweights. Some have argued that he should have fought Israel Adesanya for the belt whenever Paulo Costa pulled out of their title fight. This opportunity was instead given to Yoel Romero. Given the current rankings, in all probability, Cannonier is second in line to fight for the title next. But with the UFC’s busy schedule, he’s likely to compete at least one more time between now and then. Whether it be Whittaker, Till, or somebody else in the division, Jared Cannonier is one win away from earning a UFC title shot.