UFC: Cannonier working to ‘finish best of the best’ as Vettori looms in third main event fight

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier will be returning to the Octagon, for the first time in 2023, and headline the event against third-ranked southpaw Marvin Vettori at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Published : Jun 16, 2023 17:13 IST , CHENNAI - 5 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: At 39, Jared Cannonier is gearing up for his third UFC main event fight against Marvin Vettori on Sunday.
FILE PHOTO: At 39, Jared Cannonier is gearing up for his third UFC main event fight against Marvin Vettori on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Getty Images
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FILE PHOTO: At 39, Jared Cannonier is gearing up for his third UFC main event fight against Marvin Vettori on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

From being a federal employee in the 2000s to becoming the fourth-ranked middleweight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter, life has come full circle for Jared Cannonier. 

Popularly known as ‘The Killa Gorilla’, Cannonier, unlike the average fighter, grabbed the spotlight through his sporadic but flamboyant MMA career, which started in 2011, where he went on a seven-fight winning streak. It was so impressive that he landed an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract in 2014. 

Fast forward to 2022, the 39-year-old had his first crack at the UFC middleweight title against reigning champion Israel Adesanya. Albeit ending up on the receiving end, he tested Adesanya to his limits, pushing the fight to a fifth-round decider, which was ruled in favour of his opponent via unanimous decision. 

On Sunday, The Killa Gorilla will be returning to the Octagon, for the first time in 2023, after a seven-month hiatus and will headline UFC Fight Night against third-ranked southpaw Marvin Vettori at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Excerpts from an exclusive interaction with  Sportstar...

Q. How did a federal employee become a number four ranked UFC middleweight fighter? Tell us about your journey. 

I was a federal employee. I was an airway traffic station specialist. Before that, I was in the army and there, we practised a lot of hand-to-hand combat. And once I got my hands on that, I immediately knew I wanted to do something related to that.

Then, I moved to Alaska and in the gym where I trained, they had Jujitsu and MMA. When I started MMA, I was not a professional, I was just doing it since I loved it. Fighting was just a part of my gym, like the tests and quizzes that you get in school. I was good at it, in fact, so good that the UFC took notice of it as I went 7-0 at a local martial arts centre. Finally got a contract in 2014. I just told myself that I will go as far as I can and here I am. 

Q. This will be your third main event fight. Does that add pressure to your preparation? 

I wouldn’t say it adds pressure to it. This is my third main event and that means I’m only getting better. I’ve equipped myself to not take these into my mind. 

Q. Even though you and Vettori have similar UFC records, you both are polar opposites when it comes to fighting styles. Your thoughts about your next opponent? 

I think Vettori is a pressure fighter and an opportunistic fighter at the same time. He waits for his opponent to lose their guard and capitalises on it big time. But my style is the opposite, if you try to pressure me, I excel in those situations. And if he’s going to play the patience game, try to let me do what I usually do, that’ll also be a problem for him. I think this is going to be an exciting fight and if you ask him, he will probably say the same as well. 

Q. 12 out of your 16 wins have been outright finishes, either a knockout or a submission. Is it safe to say that you love to make your opponent give up?

Absolutely. That’s the only goal in my mind. It will only go to the third or fifth round only by chance or on that rare occasion that I’m not able to finish my opponent. So, I’m always there, going for the finishes, swinging for the fences. I’m not out there to score points or look good, I’m only there to incapacitate my opponent. 

Contrary to the previous question, three of your last five fights have gone the full quota of three or five rounds. What has changed? 

I’ve realised from those fights that guys at the top of the order are harder to finish. So that’s one thing I’m working on, to finish the top-level guys because those guys are good at avoiding damage. I’m working on a way to expose the vulnerabilities of the best of the best in the division. So, I plan on finishing Vettori, who’s one of the best as well. 

Q. You will enter the bout after a long break, seven months to be precise. What was the reason behind it? 

I didn’t choose to wait this long. I would like to fight as frequently as possible. The lack of opponents at the top of the ladder has forced me to take a long break. But it hasn’t been time wasted as I’ve been working on the craft as well as honing my mental state. I’m in a better place, mentally, going into the fight and I’ve had the best training possible. 

Q. A high-performing athlete like you is expected to win every bout you take. How do you detox from your losses and what keeps you going? 

I don’t always take losses to my head. I take them as hard lessons. For every time I’ve lost inside the Octagon, I’ve lost a dozen times in training. So, I’ve been learning this whole time. Everyone around me sees my improvement and when they say that to me, it motivates me to keep going. That everlasting goal of self-improvement is what keeps me going. I don’t even want to know what the best version of me will look like, I just want to keep improving. 

Q. You’ve been through two divisions, heavyweight and light-heavyweight, before stepping on to middleweight. How was the transition and what are the differences that you noticed while changing divisions? 

I was too fast for heavyweight and light heavyweight compared to other fighters in that division, but those guys were huge and always got the height advantage. So, now I think I’ve found my perfect division. Chennai

Watch the LIVE coverage of UFC Fight Night - Vettori vs Cannonier on Sony Sports Ten 2 (English), Sony Sports Ten 3 (Hindi) & Sony Sports Ten 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels at 7:30 am IST on 18th June 2023

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