UFC 254 Co-Main Event: Robert Whittaker vs. Jared Cannonier Preview, Odds, and Prediction
The Co-Main Event for UFC 254 features a #1 contender fight as former Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker, is set to face off against the 'Killa Gorilla' Jared Cannonier.
Middleweight Matchup (185): Robert Whittaker (22-5-0) vs Jared Cannonier (13-4-0)
After an extended layoff due to injury, the 'Killa Gorilla,' Cannonier, is back in action on Saturday. His last fight was in September 2020 when he defeated Jack Hermansson by KO with an uppercut early in round 2 (vid below). Unfortunately, Cannonier was forced to be on the sidelines after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in February 2020. And now months later, he has a chance to face a former champion and solidify himself as the next title contender with a win. At 36 years old, Cannonier has had an unusual career because he's fought in 3 different weight classes thus far. He began his career as a heavyweight, then he made the move down to light heavyweight where he had a 2-3 record in the UFC, and now, he is riding a 3 fight win streak at middleweight. His 3 wins at middleweight have all come by KO/TKO against David Branch, Anderson Silva, and Jack Hermansson. So, this fight against Whittaker will be a major step-up in competition for Cannonier and will be his toughest fight to date. He has an impressive 69% KO/TKO rate in his victories and it's no secret that he likes to keep the fight standing and look for the one-shot finish. However, if there's a downside to Cannonier's fight style it's that he tends to have a very low output with his strikes and is very dependent on a KO/TKO, typically from a counter punch. So, if this fight goes to a decision, it's more likely Whittaker will be the active fighter and score more points on the scorecards. But, he will have a 4-inch reach advantage in this fight and he will look to keep this fight at range and finish Whittaker with a counter-shot, or when he blitzes in to get on the inside of Cannonier.
Cannonier will be squaring off against 'Bobby Knuckles.' At only 29 years old, Whittaker has already solidified himself as a legend in the UFC with show-stopping performances and wars in the octagon. But, in October 2019, Whittaker lost his Middleweight title to Israel Adesanya via 2nd round KO. He was fighting after taking a 1.5-year layoff and he didn't look like himself in that fight because he was reckless with his punches and ultimately got countered with a powerful hook. But, in his most recent fight with Darren Till in July 2020, Whittaker looked much more composed and picked his shots carefully on route to a unanimous decision victory. Whittaker is at his best when he can stay on the outside at range and pick his opponents apart with a mixture of kicks and punches with his Karate and Hapkido background. But, one question mark for Whittaker coming into this fight is his durability. He has previously gone through two 5 round wars with Yoel Romero and already has 27 career MMA fights at just 29 years old. Also, he tends to get dropped a lot in his fights, but he usually manages to rally back with his incredible heart and determination. However, this doesn't work when you're up against opponents who can shut your lights off with one shot.
Whittaker may be the better all-around fighter, but Cannonier has a distinct power advantage in this fight and can end it at any moment. With that being said, this is a 'pick-em' fight and I'm going to go with Whittaker to be the more active fighter and score the decision victory with volume strikes and a mixture of punches and kicks. I feel like he can avoid the power punches of Cannonier for 3 rounds and even mix in some wrestling if he wants to tire Cannonier out because he only has a 44% takedown defense rate. But, don't be surprised if Cannonier KO's him out of nowhere...
Prediction: Whittaker (-115)
Bulldogs Risky Pick: Whittaker by Decision (+195)