The UFC 276 headliner will be a middleweight clash between the dominant champion, Israel Adesanya and brave challenger, Jared Gunner. At the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Cannonier will be looking to upset the odds and hand the New Zealand native his first loss at middleweight. The co-main event will see a trilogy between two featherweight kings when Alexander Volkanovski take Max Holloway. Elsewhere, a potential No. 1 contender fight between Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira takes place, and Sean O’Malley returns for the first time this year.
We take a look at how Jared Cannonier can solve the puzzle that is Adesanya and defeat one of the most dominant champions the UFC has seen in several years.
— MMASucka (@MMASucka) June 10, 2022
Hit the leg kick
It’s a key to victory often offered to fighters, however, in this case, it’s vital for Jared Cannonier. Not only is the leg kick one of his favorite techniques, but Adesanya’s style makes him susceptible to the leg kick. On top of that, it would also be advantageous for Cannonier to use the leg kick to limit the champion’s movement. Cannonier’s ability to switch stances will benefit him and allow him to constantly chew on Adesanya’s lead leg no matter what stance the champion is using.
One thing that makes “The Last Stylebender” so effective is his fluid movement, the way he manages to move out of range just enough to keep him in range to land his own shots. If his leg is compromised, he won’t be able to move with as much ease and will therefore be much flatter and “there to be hit” for the challenger.
The outside kick is something Cannonier has landed regularly throughout his career, especially when fighting at 185 pounds. As we saw against Robert Whittaker, despite losing the fight, Cannonier was able to hinder Whittaker’s movement by landing a number of leg kicks. He landed 22 of 25 leg kicks in 15 minutes and each landed on the outside of Whittaker’s leg. We can see in the example below that not only is it an attack for Cannonier but it is also used as a counter to Whittaker’s kick. The first was a counter, but then he followed that up with two more kicks to the outside of Whittaker’s front leg.
Likewise, against David Branch in Cannonier’s middleweight debut, he was able to land the outside kick early in the second round. He forced Branch’s legs together, causing him to sit up and throw him off balance. If he is able to use it against Adesanya, it will allow him to rush Adesanya once he is squared and can pin him down, limit his defensive movement and consequently land on the champion.
Adesanya is regularly seen going flat-footed if he chooses not to engage in a headbutt due to his opponents’ defensive moves. If Cannonier can read this, he can kick Adesanya without fear of a check. We can see how Adesanya often lands flat-footed below. We have seen this technique used by Paolo Costa, who acknowledged that Adesanya was standing irregularly and sought to take advantage of it. We have also seen it against John Blachowicz and Anderson Silva.
Don’t bite on feints
We know how good Adesnaya’s standing game is, especially his feints. The UFC 276 card will be all about feints. Expect plenty of feints from Pereira and Volkanovski in the fights leading up to the main event. For Cannonier, he can’t bite on the champion’s feints. Unfortunately for the challenger, he often bites on feints and bites big. It backs out of range a huge distance, rather than slightly out of range in order to counter. Against Adesanya, no one can get into a point fight because, quite simply, the champion is far too skilled, so the challenger will have to make him ugly if he wants to achieve success.
A leg kick from Whittaker caused Cannonier to bombard and use head movement. This was followed by a lazy swipe from “The Reaper” which bombarded Cannonier again, moving drastically out of range, spinning and resetting. Against Adesanya, Cannonier can’t do that because Adesanya will do those readings and make him pay.
Versus Marvin Vettori at UFC 263, the champion constantly made the challenger react to his feints, often in huge ways. Likewise, against Costa, Adesanya used his feints to great effect. He constantly made Costa react, he did the readings and finally knocked him out in the second round. Adesanya made Costa bite on his feints, mostly at the potential leg kick. After landing a number of kicks, Adesanya began to fake the leg kick to get Costa to react, doing reads throughout. He then slammed the kick after Costa reset to his preferred position when caught off guard. We can see a classic example below.
Don’t cling to the champion
Israel Adesanya, despite what many may think, has one-punch knockout power, especially when timing his hooks. His last two knockouts have come by almost exactly the same method, hanging at the same time as his opponent and being the fastest man to the mark. Against Whittaker in their first fight, Adesanya knocked out the Australian in the second round when both men attempted to land the hook at the same time. The New Zealander clung to the then-champion, knocked him down and ultimately took the win. Adesanya’s body shape when throwing this strike apparently threw him off balance as all of his weight was on his heels, however, he was able to land flush with Whittaker and give him his first midweight loss. If he can do that against Cannonier, using his superior reach and height to stay out of harm’s way, it could be a tough end for the American.
Likewise against Costa, despite apparently not being the biggest hitter, Adesanya was willing to trust his own speed and accuracy and latched onto Costa, again to great effect. He knocked out Costa just like he did against Whittaker. We can see below that Adesanya goes over Costa’s hook (Adesanya is in the red corner with the red tape on his gloves), landing with the right, which was then followed by a left, knocking the Brazilian. He then finished it off with soil and pound.
The first time Cannonier was finished during his UFC tenure was against Shawn Jordan at its beginnings. Granted, it was at heavyweight, however, Cannonier tried to latch on to Jordan which knocked him out. Jordan was able to throw a shorter hook, knocked down Cannonier and finished it with the ground and the pound. This shows a potential weakness in Cannonier’s game, hanging on at the same time as his opponent, something which, unfortunately for him, his opponent is brilliant at.
Other keys to victory
- Wrestle? Despite averaging just 0.23 kills per 15 minutes, Cannonier could potentially struggle against Adesanya. We only saw Last Stylebender lose once and it came in at 205 pounds. The reason he lost was largely due to his lack of wrestling ability against the bigger man. We know Cannonier fought at heavyweight in the UFC so could use his size against Adesanya, however, we don’t expect that to happen.
- Manage combat with bare hands. The middleweight champion is one of the best fighters in the game today. With his reach and height advantage over Cannonier, we can expect Adesanya to constantly fight to manage his reach. The gunner must fight well with the champion so as not to allow him to reduce his range too soon and counterbalance his attacks
- We can expect Cannonier’s game plan to be a hybrid of Vettori and Costa against Adesanya. The previous two challengers have sought to pressure Adesanya and push him against the fence to offload, or in Vettori’s case, shoot for a takedown. Cannonier is also a front foot fighter, so expect the fight to be similar. However, he can’t rely too much on either Costa or Vettori’s game plans as both have failed