Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland will go head-to-head in tonight’s UFC Fight Night 216 main event in Las Vegas. It’s a middleweight matchup between two tough contenders and shapes up to be a fascinating five-round fight.
It’s the final UFC fight card of 2022, with a total of 13 fights scheduled for the night at the UFC Apex facility. The co-main event is a battle between Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov.
But for now, let’s focus on our staff picks, predictions, and analysis ahead of Cannonier vs. Strickland this weekend.
- Jared Cannonier: -115
- Sean Strickland: -105
In a true battle of irony, Sean “Tarzan” Strickland, a loose cannon verbally but reserved in his fighting approach, takes on Jared “The Killa Gorilla” Cannonier, who is soft spoken but has deafening power. Strickland parlayed a 6-fight win streak between 2018-2022 into a title elimination fight. During that run, he knocked 2 opponents out and won the rest by decision. Then, he ran into the buzz-saw and now champion, Alex Pereira, who violently finished him inside of 3 minutes. Strickland is big, strong, and technical but lacks the power and athleticism that many, his opponent included, atop the division have in spades. Strickland tends to fight with an extreme upright stance, hands close to his jaw, and mouth open, often talking to his opponent. “Tarzan” has crisp boxing that relies on fundamentals, volume, and precision over aggression and power. Typically, in a standup fight, Strickland will have the edge in boxing but often lose the battle when all facets of MMA striking come into play. Said another way, Strickland is a one-note boxer, but, that one-note is impressive. He is able to push a steady but constant pace, fight intelligently and safely behind his jab, and land consistent combinations. Strickland is also a sneaky wrestler. Most of his fights are technically driven and he wins decisions on the back of out pointing opponents; but, if he gets into trouble, Strickland has proven an ability to time a takedown and finish it with regularly success. Although, more often, Strickland uses his grappling chops as way to stuff opponent takedowns and keep the fight standing. With only 4 losses in his professional career, two of which came against eventual champions, the flaws in his game are less apparent. But, Strickland has shown to struggle against powerful and athletic strikers that are able to land the more damaging blows in a round. Because Strickland doesn’t have much power or fight finishing ability himself, he relies on decision wins often. At times, though, even after Strickland wins the first part of a round, one big shot can sway the judges. Until his last loss, a knockout to Pereira, Strickland has absorbed these big power shots with relative ease but the impact can still sway the judges. Unless he adds finishing ability, unlikely given his age and success with his style, Strickland will continue to be at risk of “that one big shot” to win a round or even a fight.
Cannonier has made a career on timing and landing that one big shot. He is hyper athletic, powerful, and explosive. But, he strikes with frustrating infrequency and can be caught staring in fights rather than attacking. When he does attack, Cannonier often lands with accuracy and deadly power. He is best known for his crazy powerful leg kicks which he can effortlessly and quickly land to the calf, body, or head of an opponent. While his kicks can likely be heard several counties over, Cannonier’s hands are no joke as well. He, again, patiently waits to unload but when he does he makes the most of it. Like Strickland, Cannonier has found consistent success in defending takedowns throughout his career. Given he often has the edge in striking power, speed, and ability, opponents have tried to get him down to the mat and to neutralize his best assets. Most who have tried have failed at getting the big man down; but, more recently, possibly do to age, Cannonier has found himself on the mat more than he’s used to. The other issue in Cannonier’s game, alluded to above, is his passivity when striking. While Strickland can lose rounds because of a lack of impactful shots, Cannonier has lost rounds because of a lack of any real volume at all. He often spends so much time circling, feinting, and moving to try and trap his opponent that important minutes tick away at the clock; and, unless he lands that one perfect strike, he drops the round. Because of his power, though, Cannonier is always dangerous and is in every fight until the final round hits 0:00.
This fight comes down to volume vs power. Strickland could include a wrinkle by wrestling or at least clinching Cannonier against the cage; but, like Holland against Wonderboy, sometimes pride gets in the way of fight IQ. I don’t anticipate Strickland wrestling much in this one. So, assuming a strictly standup fight, Strickland’s powerless volume takes on Cannonier’s volume-less power. This bites me in the backside more than I’d like, but, I just can’t bet on a guy landing that perfect shot. 2022 has been the year for it, with Leon and Pereira, but expecting a guy to lose a fight until a sudden moment just to have him land the perfect fight ending shot is not a predictable method of handicapping. So, I’ll stick with the belief that consistent volume and intelligent defense will trump low volume and big power. I like Strickland to stick’n move for 25 minutes, hopefully circling away from Cannonier’s head kick.
Pick: Strickland by decision
Jared Cannonier is one of, if not, the hardest-hitting middleweight fighters currently on the roster. This, accompanied by his natural strength, makes him one of the most dangerous fighters to stand against. But, in this fight, intimidation and fear to stand against will not be present as it is simply not in the DNA of Sean Strickland as Sean truly loves violence.
I urge you to go to any social platform, type Sean Strickland into the search bar, and simply listen to the many trending clips he has produced over his time as a fighter. Beyond it being entertaining, doing so will greatly aid in your perception of how he fights, as his personality is intertwined with his fighting game. Particularly, he uses an Alpha approach to fighting, where he marches down his opponent and seeks to drag them into the deepest waters where he knows he can swim and is fully willing to see if his opponent can swim deeper. What is quite interesting is that while he puts on an in-your-face style of fighting with non-stop pressure and output to destroy his opponent, he throws little to no power shots. This lack of power intent with strikes is the polar opposite of how you would think Strickland fights, but the fact is he consistently gets in your face, leaves no room, and throws non-stop punches with the occasional clinch to further test the cardio of his opponent contrary to looking to land that one power shot.
Choosing to weaponize cardio and leave ego at the door is a great combination for a fighter. The problem for Strickland is that this ego is not in terms of power, but ego with being able to withstand whatever counter his opponent throws his way. This lack of regard for safety in the octagon proved fatal his last time around with the now champion, Alex Pereira, as he wore too many calf strikes – an easy strike to land given Strickland strands extremely upright – and was hit with clean power shots to the head. If Strickland continues this blatant disregard for himself in the octagon, Cannonier should be able to inflict the same power damage on him as Periera did given he has granite for fists and understands how to land power strikes the same way elite heavyweight contenders do.
Beyond having elite power in his hands, Cannonier has extremely dangerous kicks, particularly when he stands in his traditional southpaw stance as he can land his massive left leg kick to the body of his opponent. Moreover, Cannonier has underrated wrestling, both from a defensive and offensive lens. To justify this, talented grapplers of Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum have a combined 0-10 takedowns against Cannonier, and while he had a hard time offensively wrestling Israel Adesanya, the natural strength he has gives him great chances in successfully wrestling Strickland in this matchup albeit Strickland has impressive takedown defense in his own right. In total, Cannonier is a dangerous fighter where only the most technically gifted have been able to beat him in the middleweight division, so, his opponent will need to show a clear separation in technical skill to beat the number 3 ranked middleweight contender.
Stylistically, this is a great matchup for Cannonier and a horrible one for Strickland. The opposing stances accompanied by Strickland being a heavy-pressure, upright fighter opens up ample opportunities for Cannonier to land counterstrikes with his hands, and once Strickland backs up, land the heavy left leg to the tall torso of Strickland. But, the reason why this fight is priced as a pick’em is if Strickland can avoid the power threat of Cannonier, particularly early in the fight, he will have the significant cardio advantage and should be able to pull away as the rounds transpire. So, the question that looms is if Strickland make it to the 3rd round? My answer is no. Cannonier presents too much power and the stylist matchup of this fight could not favor him any more than it does here, so I am backing him here, and given I believe he needs to win early to mitigate the cardio differential between the two, I am picking him by KO.
Bet: Cannonier by Rd1-2 TKO/KO