It’s not often in the UFC that the undisputed champion of a division is the one calling out opponents after victorious bouts.
After Israel Adesanya defended his belt in stunning fashion against Paulo Costa last month, knocking the Brazilian out in the second round after dominating the entire fight, it was he who made the challenge for his next opponent.
Much in the same way that he called out Yoel Romero following his win over Robert Whittaker, Adesanya called out Jared Cannonier for his next title defence if he can defeat ‘The Reaper’ at UFC 254.
Cannonier has knockout wins at heavyweight, light heavyweight and now middleweight too with his most recent wins over Jack Hermansson and Anderson Silva. But this bout against Robert Whittaker will be the biggest fight of his career.
Whittaker has lost just once in his last eleven fights, with the last defeat prior to the one against Israel Adesanya coming against Stephen Thompson at welterweight in 2014. Bobby Knuckles is one of the most explosive and technical strikers in the entire division, with world class Muay-Thai and excellent wrestling to back it up.
He has knockout power too as shown in his fights against Derek Brunson and Jacare Souza but what’s most impressive about him is just how well he mixes his attacks up. His capable of staying at range and exploding in with quick attacks before moving back out of range. Whittaker, for my money, is behind only Anderson Silva as the greatest middleweight of all-time but Adesanya wants that crown and isn’t far off.
Cannonier is an absolute monster. He has crazy knockout power, speed and good boxing. His issue is that he’s just not as well rounded and complete as Whittaker. He has every chance of landing big on Whittaker and scoring a knockout. The Australian has been knocked down in each of his last four fights, but only Adesanya was able to translate that into a knockout or even a win.
Whittaker has a chip on his shoulder after losing to ‘The Last Style Bender’ at UFC 243 and is adamant he wants to get his title back. He believes he was burnt out after fighting non-stop for so many years and the two back-to-back wars against Yoel Romero almost certainly took time off his career. He dominated Darren Till in July on Fight Island, blowing out the Brit’s knee in the process with low kicks and wants to get back to a title shot.
A win over Cannonier, who has been promised the next title shot with a win, would almost certainly put him back at the top of the pile. A Robert Whittaker who has already been to the top of the mountain and knows what these pressure situations feel like is going to know what it takes to get the win here.
I’m all in on Whittaker for this fight but it’s not a dig at Cannonier’s skillset at all. He’s a great fighter and no doubt one of the best middleweights in the world. But so is Whittaker and I think ‘Bobby Knuckles’ will be able to survive the initial explosiveness and outclass his over three rounds to set up a rematch for the undisputed middleweight crown in 2021.