Don’t count Jared Cannonier among those surprised by where — and on whom — the UFC middleweight title landed after a roller-coaster 2022 campaign.
“I wouldn’t say I was shocked,” Cannonier said on The MMA Hour. “That’s how fights go. That’s how some fights can go. You can be winning one minute, next thing you know you’re trying not to get hit with some of the biggest shots coming your way. That’s how it goes. It’s unfortunate how it went down for Israel [Adesanya], but that’s the fight game, man.”
A nearly four-year reign at the top came to a stunning end for former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in November at UFC 281 when he lost to Alex Pereira courtesy of a come-from-behind knockout in the closing minutes of the bout. Adesanya had already lost twice before to Pereira dating back to the pair’s kickboxing days, and the shocking finish moved their multi-sport series to a definitive 3-0 lead in Pereira’s favor.
Just the same as when any longtime champion loses, the result instantly threw the UFC’s 185-pound division into a state of upheaval. Adesanya had already beaten a majority of middleweight’s top contenders, including a lopsided unanimous decision over Cannonier at UFC 276. So even though Cannonier wasn’t rooting for an upset, the 38-year-old certainly understands a bigger picture of what Adesanya’s loss means for his own title chances.
“I wouldn’t say it was a good thing for me. I wouldn’t say I was happy or anything like that. I didn’t have an emotional reaction to it. It was more of a logical thing,” Cannonier said. “And the way I think of it is, it brings more interest to the division, as opposed to bringing more interest to Israel himself.
“So it is good for the rest of us. We all get more of a chance of fighting for the title, as opposed to trying to make our way back up to a rematch, which I feel is harder to do in this sport. But no, I wasn’t happy that Israel lost. I wasn’t like clutching my crystals hoping Israel loses this fight or anything like that. So no, I’ve never wished ill will on anybody.”
The next step for the UFC middleweight division, in all likelihood, will be a fourth meeting — the second in MMA — between Pereira and Adesanya. That fight doesn’t have an official date, but Adesanya is already the betting favorite to reclaim his belt on several sportsbooks.
Cannonier, for his part, wouldn’t be surprised by any result.
“I think anybody can win a fight,” Cannonier said. “Anybody who trains, especially anybody at this level, at the highest level of sport, anybody can win. I mean, look at the fight — Israel was on his way to winning. He even rocked him at the end of that first round. If he had maybe 15 or 20 more seconds, he probably could’ve finished that in the first round.
“So I’m not going to say that this person is going to win or that person’s going to win. Nobody has nobody’s number in this game, I would say. That’s what I believe, that’s what I tell myself, and that’s why I believe I can beat anybody in this sport.”