Jared Cannonier: From Heavyweight Flop To Middleweight Fulfillment
By James Lee
As a once 300-pound heavyweight made his UFC debut and was beaten by Shawn Jordan in early 2015, nobody could have predicted that five years on he would be on the brink of fighting for middleweight gold against the most introspective champion in UFC history.
After a typical, but unassuming regional start to his life as a professional fighter, Jared Cannonier was startled in his promotional debut as the similarly unassuming Shawn Jordan delivered him a knockout blow to instantly put his status in jeopardy.
A bounce-back knockout over Cyril Asker resumed his success, yet it ultimately ended his heavyweight venture, as his commitment grew and he realised a higher level of success was more achievable competing against those at a similar height and size to him.
After a light-heavyweight debut victory over Ion Cutelaba was followed by a further defeat to former title challenger Glover Teixeira, a path of normality began to shape and a consequent win followed by two further defeats put his standing definitely adrift to where he would have wanted.
It must be said that his last two career defeats came to current light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz and two-time title challenger Dominick Reyes are nothing to be ashamed of, but regardless, he did little to prove in those contests that his fighting status was worthy of being amongst the best.
However, all it can take in the UFC is the ‘rub of the green’ per se or the attention of Dana White in the case of a fighter.
Cannonier did exactly that on his middleweight debut as he stopped former two-division World Series of Fighting champion David Branch and garnered high praise from the UFC President.
The biggest indicator of Dana White’s fondness for him came when he was awarded a fight with Anderson Silva in the following contest. Usually, the opportunity to fight the former UFC middleweight champion and widely-acclaimed greatest ever, in Brazil specifically, is only reserved for those they feel will make the most of the boost.
In reality, the Dallas native had done nothing at the time to warrant such an opportunity, but he certainly took his chance and finished Anderson Silva in the first round with leg strikes. As Silva presented a more appealing ascension to the top, the following fight with Jack Hermansson in Copenhagen definitely did not.
Since Alexander Gustaffson lost his championship capability, the Scandanavian hope for success had turned to Hermansson and a sold-out debut in Denmark acted as the showcase for his ability.
Few gave Cannonier a chance in the contest, but he shocked all, including the thousands in attendance, as he finished the fight early into the second round to push past the most significant step in the way of a championship contender rank.
Though as arguably the best fight of the year will occupy the pinnacle of UFC 254, Cannonier is compelled to take a backseat on the night, but as most attention will be adrift, it could allow him to lurk into the background, forget about the event hype and achieve his goal of securing a world title fight.
The UFC has made it abundantly clear that if Cannonier is successful, he will be next in line to attempt to dethrone Israel Adesanya. Yet, he cannot afford his attention to be anywhere else but on Saturday’s opponent Robert Whittaker.
The Australian has already cemented himself amongst the very best in history at middleweight and a multitude of his contests are guaranteed to follow him into the history books.
After a consequential dethroning of his championship to Israel Adesanya, Whittaker bounced back significantly earlier this year to beat Darren Till in a gruelling five-round decision. For him, a win over Cannonier might afford him the chance to enact revenge against Adesanya.
Ultimately, as Jared Cannonier walks to the octagon on Saturday in search of becoming part of the 1% that challenge for UFC gold, few can say that they expected the American to ever get close to that status.
Usually, foreshadowing the fate and future of a fighter can be done early. If anything, fighters are too hyped. But Cannonier’s case is the complete opposite. He has proved everybody in the sport wrong about his abilities, and although a mammoth task of beating former champion Robert Whittaker awaits him, his greatest opportunity yet to claim the number one contender rank could be realised on the weekend.
Regardless of the outcome though, Cannonier has done more than enough in mixed martial arts to prove himself, and nobody can take away his significant and surprising turnaround from heavyweight flop to middleweight contender.