The most amazing thing about Jared Cannonier’s rise to prominence in the middleweight division is not that he used to fight at light heavyweight. Or, for that matter, at heavyweight.
What’s most remarkable about Cannonier, who will fight Jack Hermansson on Saturday at UFC Copenhagen (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+) is that in his first victory in the UFC, he outweighed Cyrl Asker by 24 pounds.
Cannonier came in for that 2016 bout at 265 pounds, a pound under the heavyweight limit for a non-title fight. Ten months later, he was at 205 pounds for a bout with Glover Teixeira.
On Saturday, he’ll fight for the third time as a middleweight and will be at least 79 pounds lighter than he was for his first-round knockout victory over Asker that night in Croatia.
He’s mostly known now for a stoppage victory in his last outing over legendary former champion Anderson Silva, but if he ever claims the middleweight title like he believes he will, he’ll set some kind of record for a UFC champion for most weight differential.
“This is where I belong,” Cannonier says of the middleweight division.
He is the only fighter to score wins by knockout in three weight classes in the UFC.
He stopped Silva with a brutal leg kick at UFC 237 on May 11 in Rio de Janeiro, a win that pushed him into the middleweight top 10 and made him an instantly recognizable name in the division and within the sport.
What may have once seemed inconceivable — Cannonier fighting for the middleweight belt — will likely have to be considered if he defeats Hermansson, who is ranked No. 5 in the division.
The majority of the 500-plus fighters under contract to the UFC have the talent to win a title, though they never even get a sniff. Cannonier’s situation is an example of why.
He was stuck in the wrong weight class and had he not made the courageous decision to drop two weight classes, he probably would have been an also-ran at heavyweight and been out of the UFC already. He lost his UFC debut to Shawn Jordan at heavyweight, then defeated Asker in his second bout.
But even with that impressive knockout victory, he dropped to light heavyweight. Matchmakers showed faith in his ability by immediately pairing him with Teixeira, one of the elites at 205 pounds. He went 2-3 at light heavyweight and didn’t seem to fit among the best in the division.
He looks at home, though, at middleweight: Still strong, still powerful but now fighting men he has a lot more in common with physically than at the top of the heavyweight division.
His punching power was good at heavyweight, but it can be a game-changer at middleweight.
“I’m strong at this weight, but I’m also fast,” Cannonier said.
Speed and power is always a good combination for a fighter to have. Against a guy on a roll like Hermansson, who is 7-2 in the UFC and coming off an impressive five-round victory over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, it will be especially useful.
The game plan isn’t going to change all that much against Hermansson.
“Pretty much, I have to go out there and stuff his offense and do what I do,” Cannonier said.
A win would continue Cannonier’s rise in the division, and other fights are going to help open a position for him. Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya will meet for the undisputed title on Oct. 5 at UFC 243 in Melbourne, Australia. Paolo Costa is coming off an impressive win over No. 3 Yoel Romero in August.
No. 4 Kelvin Gastelum will meet Darren Till at UFC 244 on Nov. 2 in New York, and Hermansson is fifth.
A path to the title is opening if he continues his success at middleweight.
“Beating a guy like [Silva] is important, but in this sport, you can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “You have to go out there each time and perform. I have to go in and shut his s--- down and beat the hell out of him.”
It sounds simple, a lot simpler than cutting 80 pounds to drop two weight classes. Even if he goes all the way, though, and claims the middleweight title, one thing is certain.
There will be no run at the welterweight title. Even for a uniquely talented athlete like Cannonier, there are limits to everything.
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