Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is confident of dispatching Jared Cannonier this weekend, as he plots his way back to the top of the 185lbs division.
The pair meet on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island at UFC 254 with a number one contender’s spot at place for Israel Adesanya’s crown.
Whittaker (21-5, 15-3 UFC) lost the title to New Zealand’s Adesanya a little over a year ago but a win this weekend, to add to his victory over Darren Till in July, would cement a rematch.
Cannonier (18-4, 6-4 UFC) has been running hot since dropping down from light heavyweight, recording three TKO wins, stream-rolling his way into title contention.
Despite the way in which the American’s power has transitioned down in the weight classes, Bobby Knuckles is confident he is more than equipped to nullify the threat come Saturday night – with his game plan having a pretty simple focus.
“Try not to get hit is the first thing,” he quips. “I think I am better than him. I am faster, hit just as hard and I’m more resilient. I am better on the ground and with my wrestling. I want to pick him apart and hurt him.”
After defeating Till over five rounds in Abu Dhabi, Whittaker spoke of the stress and anxiety in the Octagon that night as the pair twitched and feinted their way into discovering openings, with both men knowing a mistake on the feet could be night-ending.
The same can be said of this three-round clash with Cannonier, with a shorter round format throwing a potential difference of fight pace into the mix.
“This is going to be a stressful fight too,” said the affable Aussie. “Over three rounds I am sure he is going to come out fast and hard, I am going to have to work with what I have on the night and see how the dice rolls.”
Cannonier has been out of the Octagon for more than 12 months, mainly down to a torn pectoral muscle, and has not experienced the unique surroundings of a UFC fight-night in the Coronavirus era.
For Whittaker, it will be his second trip to Fight Island, an experience he relishes – and knows any hiccups come fight time, will not be down to his surroundings.
“Because of the way everything is set up here and how professionally things are run, how everybody has been and how things are organised and ordered for you, there is not much you can stuff up!
“I feel like I am just going to the office, that’s the vibe I get.”
Following his recent title defence against Paulo Costa, Adesanya hinted that Cannonier would be next in line for a title shot. So does the champ’s match-making and overlooking of Whittaker irritate him?
“I don’t care, it doesn’t bother me – I just focus on beating Jared and then going home,” he says. “Fighting is very simple and people make is sound far more difficult than it needs to be. You just prepare, get in there, and fight. If you win, you fight harder people, if lose, you don’t.”
You can see Robert Whittaker take on Jared Cannonier at UFC 254 on the UFC Arabia app. The main card starts from 10pm UAE time.