Jared Cannonier suffered both a unanimous decision loss and a broken arm against Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 last October. Now, the 37-year-old will try to reassert himself as a legitimate title contender when he takes on Kelvin Gastelum at UFC on ESPN 29 in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Gastelum has lost four of his past five fights, though those defeats have come to some of the top names in the division.
Cannonier healthy and ready to fight
Cannonier (13-5) could have booked himself a fight against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya had he come away with a win over Whittaker last year. But Whittaker broke Cannonier’s arm with a kick in the first round of that fight, and Cannonier couldn’t come back from that, losing 29-28 on all three cards.
“As far as my energy goes, I’m picking up right where I left off,” Cannonier told MMA Junkie. “Losing that fight to Robert the way that I lost it, can’t nobody take anything away from me with that.”
Gastelum (16-7) hasn’t impressed in terms of wins and losses as of late, but his losses have come to Adesanya, Whittaker, Darren Till and Jack Hermansson. Throughout his career, Gastelum has never shied away from fighting the biggest names in the UFC, and he doesn’t plan on changing that now.
“It’s not something I’ve looked back at too much, but I’ve always asked for it,” Gastelum told Yahoo. “Ever since my very first fight in the UFC after winning ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ I was asking for Paulo Thiago. He was a big contender at the time. I was just coming off winning ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and I was asking for the biggest name possible.”
Size difference could make the difference
The level of competition in those losses has left Gastelum with the No. 9 ranking in the UFC middleweight division. It’s also why Cannonier says he still has great respect for his opponent.
“As far as my career goes, that’s not the one that I want, so Kelvin isn’t ideal,” Cannonier said. “But in a sense, Kelvin is ideal because I respect him a lot, you know? I understand who he is and what he is and what he’s done from his performances.”
Bookmakers are also showing Gastelum respect despite his recent record. FanDuel Sportsbook has made Cannonier the favorite, but at just -144 odds, with Gastelum offering +122.
|Cannonier vs. Gastelum Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)|
|Jared Cannonier: -144||Kelvin Gastelum: +122|
|Method of Victory|
|Cannonier by KO/TKO: +195||Gastelum by KO/TKO: +420|
|Cannonier by Decision: +200||Gastelum by Decision: +300|
|Cannonier by Submission: +3400||Gastelum by Submission: +1400|
Cannonier holds a clear advantage in size and strength. While Gastelum has moved up in weight class over the years to become a middleweight, Cannonier once fought at heavyweight before moving down. It’s something the smaller fighter recognizes, though he thinks he can overcome that hurdle.
“He’s a very big, strong guy and I think if his goal is to use it, then maybe it could be a factor,” Gastelum said. “On Saturday, we’ll see if I can take it but we’ll also see if he can take my power because you know what? I bring a certain level of power to the table as well.”