The UFC closed out the calendar year with one of its most evenly matched fights of the year.
Recent middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier (16-6 MMA, 9-6 UFC) got his hand raised in the UFC Fight Night 216 main event with a split decision over Sean Strickland (25-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC). Cannonier got a pair of 49-46 scores from the three judges; a dissenting judge had it 49-46 for Strickland. The striking stats were close throughout at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
“I thought I had it 3 (rounds) to 2,” Cannonier said in his post-fight interview. “I was pretty confident that I won. We saw the damage on his face from the first round and the last round. I thought I did enough. I wouldn’t say it was too tricky – it was just conventional. Sean’s got a good eye for that distance.
“I would definitely like another title shot – sooner rather than later. But at this point, I’m ranked No. 3. I just beat No. 6. … Anyone above me that would get me to the title fight, or the title fight, is what we’re shooting for.”
About a minute in, Cannonier became the first to start to open up with a few kicks and jabs that got through. But Strickland stayed in the pocket and tried to slip out when Cannonier threw. A Cannonier right hand got through, but the pace was cautious. When Strickland put together a pair of rights, Cannonier pushed in a little and backed him to the fence. Midway through, he landed a solid body kick. Three minutes in, Cannonier threw a kick that Strickland caught and used to take Cannonier to the canvas. They didn’t stay there long, but Strickland tied Cannonier up when they got back to their feet. Once they separated, neither fighter took a clear advantage heading to the second.
In the second, the pace remained steady while Cannonier tried to figure Strickland out. He worked leg kicks that kept Strickland backing up while Cannonier tried to find a power shot. Strickland’s pace seemed conservative, perhaps in an effort to play the long game and conserve energy for the later rounds. With 45 seconds left in the round, Strickland found an opening for a solid combination that seemed to give Cannonier pause for a moment, but Cannonier landed a solid right hand just before the horn.
The third played out much the same as the first two rounds. Cannonier continued to work kicks and hoped to find a home for the kind of right hand that would finish the fight, but it wasn’t there while Strickland stayed elusive. And from Strickland’s end of things, the story was a similar one.
Ninety seconds into the fourth, Cannonier threw a solid leg kick that Strickland checked, proving that even 15 minutes into things neither fighter had any more of an advantage than when the fight started. Midway through the fourth, Strickland seemed to switch to the next gear, but that didn’t prove to give him any more of an advantage when nothing seemed to keep Cannonier at bay. With 45 seconds left, Cannonier put something together, but it didn’t last long when Strickland tied him up on the fence. But a few seconds later, Cannonier put another flurry together for perhaps the most interesting two sequences of the fight up to that point.
The fight seemed to be hanging in the balance after 20 minutes, and both fighters’ corners tried to make it clear it could be anyone’s for the taking. Cannonier continued to switch stances in the last round, which didn’t help Strickland’s cause in terms of following his corner instructions. But he got a punch through a minute in that pushed Cannonier back, and a jab not long after got through, followed by two more. Midway through, after Strickland landed with a solid jab, Cannonier fired back with big punches that blasted Strickland’s head back. But seconds later, that situation reversed itself.
The striking totals were close to even over 25 minutes, and the only truly visible damage was a Strickland bloody nose. Cannonier kept swinging like he wanted a one-hitter quitter, and Strickland answered in the final 20 seconds. But it still seemed like anyone’s guess what the scores would be.
The middleweight bout was the UFC Fight Night 216 main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Up-to-the-minute UFC Fight Night 216 results include:
- Jared Cannonier def. Sean Strickland via split decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)
- Arman Tsarukyan def. Damir Ismagulov via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Amir Albazi def. Alessandro Costa via knockout (punches) – Round 3, 2:13
- Alex Caceres def. Julian Erosa via TKO (head kick, punches) – Round 1, 3:04
- Drew Dober def. Bobby Green via knockout (punches) – Round 2, 2:45
- Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Cody Brundage via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:16
- Cory McKenna def. Cheyanne Vlismas via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Matt Semelsberger def. Jake Matthews via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Said Nurmagomedov def. Saidyokub Kakhramonov via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 2, 3:50
- Rafa Garcia def. Hayisaer Maheshate via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Rinat Fakhretdinov def. Bryan Battle via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-27)
- Manel Kape def. David Dvorak via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Sergey Morozov def. Journey Newson via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 216.