Jared Cannonier (Jason Burgos/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs. Strickland Preview and Predictions

With the holiday season in full swing, the UFC will put on one final card for 2022 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas before taking a few weeks off. That card is headlined with a showdown between top middleweight contenders Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland. Both men still have title aspirations, despite both having suffered a setback in their respective last appearances. Closing out the year with a victory would go a long way towards boosting their stock and keeping them on the short list for title challengers for newly minted champion Alex Pereira.

A fight with Pereira would be a rematch for Strickland who was stopped in the first round when the two met back in July, halting a six-fight winning streak that the California resident had put together. Cannonier’s recent loss came against former longtime middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Throughout the bout, Adesanya was able to neutralize the power of Cannonier and avoid taking much damage. The “Killa Gorilla” will have to find the chin of Strickland more successfully if he wants to get his hand raised and stake a claim as the rightful next opponent for “Poatan.”

The co-main event will take place in the lightweight division between two of the promotion’s rising stars Arman Tsarukyan and Damir Ismagulov. Tsarukyan has lost only twice since joining the UFC, in his debut against current champion Islam Makhachev and in his last fight against another stalwart in Mateusz Gamrot. Despite those two losses, the 26-year-old has shown that he has the talent and ability to contend for the championship before long. His opponent Ismagulov also seemingly has what it takes to reign over the division as he has yet to lose since signing with the promotion. He has put together a 19-fight winning streak, which includes five in a row under the UFC banner. A 20th straight win over someone as talented as Tsarukyan would be a major feather in his cap as the Russian born knockout artist climbs up the lightweight rankings.


UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs. Strickland airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ with the preliminary card starting at 4 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland are both coming into their main event showdown on the heels of a loss; which hard-hitting middleweight ends 2022 on a high note with a win?

Kuhl: Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland are both heavy strikers, but the biggest difference in this one is just that – size.

Cannonier used to fight at light heavyweight, and he is built like a brick shithouse. Since dropping to middleweight, he has picked up four knockouts and three performance bonuses in five wins, and his only two losses are to former champs Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker. Today, he is ranked third behind those two guys and the current champ Alex Pereira. The Texas native is a complete wrecking machine, who has only been stopped twice.

Strickland, on the other hand, came from the other end of the spectrum. He also has knockout power, and both cardio and durability for days, but he spent a large portion of his early UFC career as a welterweight, before bumping back up to 185 pounds only two years ago. Since then, he has picked up one performance bonus and one knockout win. While he has not faced quite the level of middleweight competition as Cannonier, he was on a five-fight winning streak in the division before getting knocked out by Pereira in the first round of their Jul. 2022 meeting.

To me, this one is a lot more cut-and-dry than it may seem. Cannonier is a huge middleweight – albeit, slightly shorter than Strickland – who is also a headhunter. Strickland has been sliding through some middle-of-the-pack guys, other than his split decision win over Jack Hermansson last February. At 31 years old, seventh-ranked Strickland will have youth on his side, versus the 38-year-old Cannonier, and the California-based fighter also has a slight length advantage.

Strickland will certainly come in ready to bang and put on a great show. Outside of his outlandish comments from time to time, he is a fighter’s fighter, who rarely puts on a boring fight. However, Cannonier’s power is a lot to deal with. Strickland is likely going to get clipped badly in this one, suffering his second knockout loss in a row, likely before the middle of the second round.

Petela: Both of these two guys come into this fight on the heels of a loss to a champion. Sean Strickland got knocked out by current champion Alex Pereira who earned his shot at gold by knocking out the brash Strickland. Jared Cannonier lost a unanimous decision by a wide margin in a forgettable performance against former champion Israel Adesanya in what would be Adesanya’s final title defense before dropping the crown to Pereira. The matchmaking basically did itself pitting these two against each other and despite having to be pushed back due to a gross injury that Strickland suffered, it should be a competitive final fight of the calendar year.

My colleague is right that there will be a noticeable size and power difference when these two square off. Strickland has filled out and is much healthier at 185 pounds than he was at 170, but he is still going to be giving up a great deal of strength to the once monstrous Cannonier. That would typically lead me to believe that Strickland would have a speed advantage but I don’t know if that is going to be true. His timing is certainly elite but it isn’t as if Strickland is known for firing off lightning fast combinations that blind his opponents. Eventually, Cannonier will be able to figure out the timing of Strickland, but it will take a couple rounds.

Strickland will probably get out to an early lead, somewhat picking apart Cannonier and avoiding the big power coming back at him. Once Cannonier is able to get a read on the timing of Strickland’s strikes the tide will change quickly.

Cannonier showed that he carries his power deep into fights, as seen in the Robert Whittaker fight when he clipped Whittaker late. If that fight was a five-round affair I expect that Cannonier would have caught Whittaker flush again and scored a finish. With this main event being five rounds, there will be plenty of time for “The Killa Gorilla” to land the fight-ending punch that he needs to close the show and get back on track as a middleweight contender.

Arman Tsarukyan lost a controversial decision to Mateusz Gamrot his last time in the cage; can the 26 year old regroup and hand Damir Ismagulov his second career loss?

Petela: After Arman Tsarukyan fought current champion Islam Makhachev in his UFC debut, I went on the record saying that he would be a UFC champion before his career was over. I still believe that, and I believe that, along with his former foe Mateusz Gamrot, he is going to be the face of the next generation of the lightweight division. That being said, this is an exceptionally tough matchup. Damir Ismagulov is not an easy out. He is a former M-1 lightweight champion and has yet to taste defeat in his five UFC bouts.

Tsarukyan has faced stiffer competition in the UFC than Ismagulov, and he will be the toughest opponent, by far, that his Russian counterpart has stood across the cage from. One other thing that Tsarukyan has shown is that he knows how to finish. If there was any knock on him early in his UFC run, it was that he wasn’t putting away opponents when he probably had the chance. That changed with his back-to-back TKO wins over Christos Giagos and Joel Alvarez.

For as good as Damir Ismagulov has looked inside the Octagon, he now finds himself in the place where Tsarukyan was a couple fights ago, picking up wins, but unable to score a finish. He has shown over his career that he has fight-ending power in his hands with 12 knockout wins, but he hasn’t been able to score one since facing the premier talent of the UFC. Tsarukyan is not the guy against whom Ismagulov is going to score that elusive first promotional finish.

This should be a fun showdown between two names whose profiles aren’t as high as their skills dictate that they should be, but, ultimately, Tsarukyan will get back into the win column with a late ground-and-pound finish and reestablish himself as a rising star at 155 pounds.

Kuhl: This is going to be a super fun fight between two top-12 lightweights. And, I agree with my colleague that both of them are certainly the future of the lightweight division.

Arman Tsarukyan has already headlined a UFC card in his last outing, and even in losing to Mateusz Gamrot, he was able to show he can go a full five rounds. He is a very well-rounded fighter, and he is still only 26 years old. Damir Ismagulov might be five years the elder, but, as previously pointed out, he is a former M-1 champ, and he has not lost since Sep. 2015.

This is a tough one to pick. Tsarukyan has fantastic wrestling, but Ismagulov has a great takedown defense. Tsarukyan is not afraid to stand and bang, but Ismagulov has very snappy striking, utilizes a lot of punch-kick combos, and is very elusive when his opponents march forward. Tsarukyan is physically thicker, but Ismagulov is a lot quicker on his feet.

While my instinct is to lean toward the slight betting favorite in Tsarukyan, I’m going to play Devil’s advocate here and go with Ismagulov. He is very elusive on the feet, and with good takedown defense, I think he is going to pose some stylistic problems for Tsarukyan. I don’t see either one being able to finish this fight, but I can see a path to a decision victory for Ismagulov by methodically picking his opponent apart through three full rounds.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Kuhl: This card is a bit of a sneaky one. Looking up and down the line-up, it seems like there would be at least a few that stand out as on-the-ropes fighters. However, much of the athletes scheduled for this weekend are actually doing pretty well as of late. The one obvious one is Deron Winn.

In a way, it seems like the only reason Winn has not been cut yet is his relationship as a training partner of Daniel Cormier. He was a standout wrestler, although not at the NCAA level, and he failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2016. He then landed at American Kickboxing Academy, and he ran up a 5-0 record, mostly at the regional level, but one of those was in his sole Bellator appearance. Since joining the UFC, he has gone 2-3, winning only one of his last four. While he is a good wrestler, he is really thick for a five-feet-six-inch-tall middleweight, and he will always have a problem closing distance to exercise any kind of effective striking game, outside of ground-and-pound.

On Saturday, Winn faces Julian Marquez, who is a well-rounded mixed martial artist with significant height and reach advantages. A loss in this one could easily send Winn packing.

Petela: It is very true that Winn is probably the only fighter on this card whose job is in jeopardy with a loss this weekend. However, Bobby Green needs a win to get back on track and keep his place as someone who can consistently fight on the main card and keep pace with the fighters near the top of the lightweight division. He put together two great fights against Al Iaquinta and Nasrat Haqparast before getting absolutely ran through my the champion Islam Makhachev. A win this weekend against Drew Dober puts him right back on track, but a loss could drop his name out of the rotation when the UFC looks towards high profile fights in 2023 and beyond.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: For me it is Jake Matthews vs. Matthew Semelsberger. These two welterweights are fun to watch. Neither one of them is ready to become a top tier contender just yet but they both have the potential to vault themselves into that conversation if they can rattle off a couple wins. Matthews is the bigger submission threat and Semelsberger carries more power in his hands so it will likely come down to who is able to dictate where the fight takes place. Regardless of who comes out with the win, it should be a fan-friendly affair early on in the card.

Kuhl: I’m actually a bit surprised that many of the sportsbooks have Michał Oleksiejczuk as moderately heavy favorite over Cody Brundage. The American is a tough wrestler who is hard to put away, and back-to-back first-round finishes of Tresean Gore and Dalcha Lungiambula is nothing to scoff at. Oleksiejczuk’s last fight was a win over Sam Alvey, after Alvey had not won in his previous eight fights. Before that, Oleksiejczuk actually lost quite decisively to Brundage’s main training partner, Dustin Jacoby. I don’t see a heavy favorite in this one, but I do see a somewhat evenly matched battle where neither of these guys will be trying to point-fight. This fight could end up as “Fight of the Night,” and is certainly one to watch.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Kuhl: There is one fight on this card where both fighters are in a position to take home performance bonuses. Drew Dober and Bobby Green are two fun fighters to watch, and they already combine for 10 bonuses between the two of them. This should be a super fun fight for as long as it lasts, and these guys could both walk away with a little extra doubt for their efforts.

Petela: There could very likely be a bonus or two coming out of the Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa bout. Erosa’s last three fights have been super entertaining and he has won all three of those contests. He got into a barnburner with Steven Peterson that stole the show as the main card opener back in February. Then you have Caceres, who seems to enjoy every second of every fight and his creative striking never leaves fans bored. I’m not super confident picking a winner in this fight but I am confident saying that this one could yield the victor an extra 50 thousand dollars.

Pair this card with…

Petela: A glass of champagne. This is the final UFC card of the year, and, while it hasn’t been the greatest year for the promotion with a number of main events falling through or ending in freak injuries, in large part, the matchmakers did a great job and the fights delivered. So enjoy one more fun-filled fight card and fill your flutes with champagne and celebrate the year-ending event.

Kuhl: It’s the holiday season, so I recommend trying a nice warm pot of glühwein. For those that don’t know, this is a German mulled wine that contains added spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise and cardamom, and it is typically warmed along with slices of orange or other citrus fruits. It is warm, spicy, and perfect on a cold winter evening, just like this card.

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
MW: Jared Cannonier vs. Sean Strickland Cannonier Cannonier
LW: Arman Tsarukyan vs. Damir Ismagulov Ismagulov Tsarukyan
FlyW: Amir Albazi vs. Alessandro Costa Albazi Albazi
FW: Alex Caceres vs. Julian Erosa Erosa Caceres
LW: Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green Dober Green
MW: Cody Brundage vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk Brundage Oleksiejczuk
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
StrawW: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Cory McKenna Vlismas Vlismas
WW: Jake Matthews vs. Matthew Semelsberger Matthews Matthews
MW: Julian Marquez vs. Deron Winn Marquez Marquez
BW: Said Nurmagomedov vs. Saidyokub Kakhramonov Nurmagomedov Nurmagomedov
LW: Maheshate vs. Rafa Garcia Maheshate Maheshate
WW: Bryan Battle vs. Rinat Fakhretdinov Fakhretdinov Fakhretdinov
FlyW: David Dvorak vs. Manel Kape Kape Kape
BW: Sergey Morozov vs. Journey Newson Morozov Morozov