It wasn’t always pretty but Jared Cannonier did enough to win a split decision over Sean Strickland in the final fight of the year at UFC Vegas 66.
The difference in the fight really came down to Cannonier’s power versus Strickland’s volume as the one-time title challenger was constantly seeking to land big, heavy punches. Strickland landed a strong jab throughout the five-round affair but he couldn’t match Cannonier’s ability to march forward and find a home with huge hooks and overhand punches that likely helped him edge out the victory.
Judges Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo both scored the fight 49-46 for Cannonier with judge Sal D’Amato giving it 49-46 for Strickland. Still that was enough for Cannonier to get the nod as he closes out the year with a win while bouncing back from his loss to Israel Adesanya back in July.
“I thought I had it 3-2 so I was pretty confident that I won,” Cannonier said afterwards. “I thought I did enough. Sean’s got a very good eye for that distance. He was able to read me when I was getting ready to come. He was doing a good job of not just walking forward like a freaking zombie. We had a whole play book of answers for his jab but that [leg kick] worked.”
Facing a notorious power puncher, Strickland did his best to stay on the outside and used his jab to try and keep Cannonier on the end of his strikes. In return, Cannonier fired back with a series of kicks to try and take out Strickland’s lead leg as they continued to trade on the feet.
Strickland was methodical with his approach as he continued sticking those straight punches in Cannonier’s face and then sliding out of the way before he absorbed much coming back at him. The movement was starting to frustrate Cannonier, who actually started talking to Strickland and asking him if he wanted a stand up battle in the middle of the cage.
Strickland responded with another series of jabs and then getting a bit more aggressive with some solid hooks as he attempted to force Cannonier to take a back step of his own.
It wasn’t until deep in the third round when Cannonier finally uncorked his best combination of the fight as he marched Strickland down and threw several punches in succession. A big hook connected clean but Strickland ate the punch effectively and circled away before more damage could be inflicted.
At moments, Cannonier was able to cut off the cage and step into the pocket to exchange with Strickland, which is where he was finally able to unload his biggest punches. Still, Strickland absorbed the shots well enough to escape the position and reset in the center of the cage.
Knowing the fight was close through the first four rounds, Cannonier was really letting his hands go and he managed to crack Strickland with some well-timed overhand punches that countered the constant jabs coming back at him. By the time the final horn sounded, Strickland was showing a bit more wear and tear from the damage inflicted throughout the fight and that may have been the difference to help Cannonier get the win.
At 38, Cannonier remains a top ranked middleweight but he’s hoping this win will propel him back into the title picture as he seeks another shot at good in the near future.
“I would definitely like another shot, sooner rather than later,” Cannonier said. “Anybody above me to get the title fight or the title fight is what we’re shooting for.”