UFC 254 is set to take place Saturday on pay-per-view from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and its co-main event will feature a pivotal fight in the middleweight division between top contenders Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier.
Given Whittaker’s status as a former champion and the fact that Cannonier is riding a three-fight winning streak that includes three finishes, UFC President Dana White has already said that the winner will likely be next in line to challenger 185-pound titleholder Israel Adesanya.
The stakes are clearly high surrounding the bout and Cannonier is well aware of that, as he recently labeled it as the “biggest” fight of his career.
“This is the biggest fight of my career,” Cannonier told reporters on Tuesday at UFC 254 media day (H/T MMAJunkie.com). “A title fight is definitely coming for me next.”
Whittaker, who’s coming off of a decision victory over Darren Till this past July, actually has a history with Adesanya, as he suffered a brutal second-round knockout defeat to “The Last Stylebender” that cost him his title in 2019. Prior to that, “The Reaper” had won nine-straight fights.
Cannonier, meanwhile, has yet to test his hand against the champion, although he has found success lately as well. A former heavyweight and light heavyweight, “The Killa Gorilla” made his 185-pound debut in 2018 and has since scored TKO victories over David Branch, Anderson Silva, and Jack Hermansson.
As White stated, a win for either man will earn a title shot, but it’s actually Cannonier that Adesanya appears to have his eyes on, as he mentioned the 36-year-old contender following his successful title defense over Paulo Costa last month.
Jared Cannonier acknowledged that there’s mutual respect between him and Adesanya as well.
“Real recognize real,” Cannonier said. “He said in his interview he respects my energy, and that means something different to me than what it means to other people. When you start talking energy, I think we’re seeing each other right there [points to third eye] and that’s huge.
“I think a lot of people look at the physicality of the sport and don’t tap into the mentality of the sport, as well. There’s a spiritual aspect to this sport. Martial arts is a spiritual thing before it was a physical thing.”
Beating Whittaker is obviously no easy task, but a date between Adesanya and Cannonier could be on the horizon. Either way, the middleweight title picture is likely to be much clearer come Sunday morning.
UFC 254 is set to be headlined by a highly anticipated lightweight title fight between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Justin Gaethje.