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Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland are set to fight for relevancy among the middleweight elite. Cannonier vs. Strickland headlines UFC Fight Night at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday night.
Cannonier (15-6) was the beneficiary of Israel Adesanya’s dominance over the middleweight division preceding new champion Alex Pereira’s takeover. He earned a middleweight title fight against Adesanya at UFC 276 following wins over Derek Brunson and Kelvin Gastelum, but the “Killa Gorilla” was stifled in the biggest fight of his career. That fight still stings, but a win over Strickland will do well to mend the wound.
“I went back to the locker room and shed a few tears, received condolences from family and friends and all that,” Cannonier told reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “But essentially on the way home from the arena, I was over it. I was ready to move on and get better, learn from the experience. It still sucked. The sting is still there. But I don’t focus on the negative. I focus on the positive.
“I think he’ll have his hands a little full to be talking crap. And if he is talking crap, good on him.”
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Strickland (25-4) fought Pereira on the main card of Adesanya vs. Cannonier. Unlike Cannonier, who went five full rounds with the champ, Strickland was knocked out cold in under three minutes. Strickland’s lackadaisical approach cost him big — snapping his six-fight winning streak and a shot at middleweight gold — yet he projects the same nonchalant attitude ahead of Saturday’s main event.
“‘The Killa Gorilla,’ let’s f—-ing go. Sounds like a scary motherf—er,” Strickland said on Wednesday. “Sounds like I don’t want to share a f—ing cell with that guy.
“Maybe I’ll take him down. Maybe I’ll kickbox. Maybe I’ll box. I don’t even f—ing know these things. You’re asking questions I haven’t even thought about yet.”
The rest of the undercard fills out with some fun fights to close out the year. Rising contenders in the lightweight division clash when Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov. Tsarukyan is coming off a loss to Matuez Gamrot, but had ripped off five straight wins before that. Ismagulov, meanwhile, has won an astounding 19 straight fights with his last loss coming back in 2015. He’s unbeaten against UFC competition with all five of those wins coming by decision.
An all-action fight between fellow lightweights Drew Dober and Bobby Green is a leading candidate for a Fight of the Night or Performance of the Night bonus. Dober made a push to get the next crack at rising star Paddy Pimblett, but doesn’t believe it will happen.
“UFC will not let me fight him,” Dober said at media day on Wednesday. “Let’s be honest. We watched his last fight. We know what I’m capable of. That’d be a fun one. I just want to fight in London at that O2 Arena. So if Paddy says yes, I’m all for it. But we all know. We got Dana, UFC and all those — they won’t let that happen.”
Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.
Date: Dec. 17 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: UFC Apex — Las Vegas
TV channel: ESPN+
Jared Cannonier vs. Sean Strickland: Cannonier and Strickland will have to employ strategies opposite to what they presented against Adesanya and Pereira, respectively. Cannonier fought measured and it cost him against the technically superior Adesanya. Strickland was sloppy and left his chin wide open for Pereira’s unparalleled power. I’m not convinced Cannonier can win a technical striking battle against Strickland. It is imperative that Cannonier cuts off exits and takes the fight to his opponent. By contrast, Strickland will need to endure Cannonier’s power and keep him at distance. Both fighters have an identical knockout record of 10-2, but Cannonier is a touch more durable and powerful than Strickland. Cannonier has only been stopped in higher weight classes, while Strickland’s KO losses were to absolute thumpers Pereira and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos at 185. Cannonier has finished four of his last five opponents compared to just one of five for Strickland. Cannonier must commit to the finish and I think he will find it within three rounds. Cannonier via KO2
Who wins Cannonier vs. Strickland? And how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC Fight Night, all from the incomparable expert who’s up more than $13,000 on MMA in the past three years, and find out.
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