By Victor Okoye
Israel Adesanya outpointed Jared Cannonier via a unanimous decision to retain his middleweight title in the main event of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 276.
The judges scored the bout 49-46 49-46 and 50-45.
In a clinical, albeit unspectacular performance, Adesanya’s superiority in striking was evident throughout the bout on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, U.S.
Cannonier landed nothing of real significance, with Adesanya keeping him at a distance and picking Cannonier apart with jabs and kicks to the body and legs.
The crowd grew restless with the lack of thrilling action, especially in the fourth round, which was marked by boos and fans raising lit-up smartphones.
But Cannonier did nothing to push Adesanya, a former champion kickboxer, into anything resembling a firefight.
Adesanya, meanwhile, was content with safely landing strikes with his length from so far out that Cannonier could not counter them.
Adesanya outstruck Cannonier 163-141 for the fight, including a 116-90 edge in significant strikes.
Judges Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo both gave Cannonier the third round.
But that’s it as Judge Sal D’Amato had Adesanya sweeping all five rounds.
“They had an excellent game plan,” Adesanya said, giving credit to Cannonier’s coach, John Crouch. “It was really hard to get my follow-ups going.”
Coming in, Adesanya ranked number three in the world on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list.
At middleweight, Adesanya was ranked number one and Cannonier was number three.
Next up for Adesanya could be Alex Pereira, who knocked out Sean Strickland on Saturday’s undercard.
Pereira owns two kickboxing wins over Adesanya, including one by knockout.
“The first time I told you it was an error on my part spamming the right hand,” Adesanya said, directing his comments to Pereira. “That was in kickboxing.
“Next time I punch you, you’ll be on skates, and you’re gonna be frozen like Elsa. I’ll leave it at that.”
In his post-fight news conference, Pereira blasted Adesanya for his performance, saying it was disappointing for the fans.
“I hope when we fight, he does a better fight than that,” Pereira said.
Adesanya admitted he had an “off night,” realising that fact during the actual bout.
“Maybe when I couldn’t find my power shots,” he said. “My kicks, the initiators, my jabs, my leg kicks were working. But I couldn’t find my power.”
Adesanya (23-1) is undefeated at 185 pounds, posting a 12-0 record in the UFC in that weight class.
The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident was coming off a unanimous decision win over rival Robert Whittaker at UFC 271 in February.
Adesanya, 32, has five successful middleweight title defence s after unifying the belt with Whittaker in 2019.
Adesanya’s lone pro MMA loss was up in weight, for the UFC light heavyweight title against Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 in March 2021.
“The Last Stylebender” has won three straight since that defeat.
Adesanya is the fourth fighter in UFC history to win 12 fights in one weight class.
He is joining welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, former middleweight champ Anderson Silva and former lightweight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Cannonier (15-6) had won two in a row and five of his previous six coming in.
The Arizona resident was coming off a second-round knockout of Derek Brunson at UFC 271.
Cannonier, 38, has finished fights in three weight divisions: heavyweight, light heavyweight and middleweight.
His only middleweight loss before Saturday came against Whittaker in 2020.(Reuters/NAN)