Cannonier (17-6 MMA, 10-6 UFC) is tabbed as the backup fighter for Saturday’s championship bout between Israel Adesanya and Sean Strickland, which headlines the pay-per-view main card at Qudos Bank Arena following prelims on ESPNews/ESPN+ and early prelims on ESPN+.
After learning his services would be needed less than five weeks ago, Cannonier said his focus has been on making weight, which the UFC is putting “a nice pretty penny to put in my bank” to do. The UFC has never actually faced a situation where a backup fighter was needed at the 11th hour, but Cannonier said he’ll be ready for it – and thinks he has a strategic leg up given the fact he’s already fought Adesanya (24-2 MMA, 13-2 UFC) and Strickland (27-5 MMA, 14-5 UFC) before.
“It’s pretty much been more of a diet camp than a fight camp,” Cannonier told MMA Junkie on Tuesday. “I’ve fought both competitors before, so I’m not really concerning myself with – I don’t want to say I’m not concerning myself with what I’m going to do in there. I’m not necessarily game-planning for one or the other. I’m ready to go in there and fight both of them. I’m ready to go in there and fight both of them and win.”
If Cannonier ends up not being called upon, he said he will shift focus on getting a marquee matchup at 185 pounds. He thinks there are several options in play for him, and is open to any direction the promotion wants to go.
“I don’t know what’s going to be next for me,” Cannonier said. “Personally, I would like either a title fight or a contender’s match. There’s two fighters that could make a good contender’s match with me: Dricus Du Plessis or Robert Whittaker. Hell, even the winner of (Khamzat) Chimaev and (Paulo) Costa (at UFC 294). I’m ready to fight. I just want to get in there and fight.”
In some instances, a fighter who serves as the backup will be granted an immediate title fight next. That is the case for Colby Covington in the welterweight division after he weighed in as the alternate for Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman at UFC 286 in March, and while Cannonier hasn’t been given any assurances, he certainly wouldn’t turn his nose up at getting the UFC 293 winner.
“I certainly hope that is a shared sentiment, but no one said anything to me,” Cannonier said. “Either way, my ranking speaks for itself. I’m ready to get in there and fight for the title. I’m ready to get in there and win the title. It’s not just talk this time. I feel it in my bones. I feel it in my spirit. I feel it in the cosmos. I’m ready to get in there and do some work. I’m ready to do some damage against anybody. It don’t even have to be the champion. I’m ready to get in there and fight and show the world that I am who I am.”
Assuming Adesanya and Strickland get into the octagon without issue, Cannonier said he expects the champion to retain. He won’t completely rule out the possibility of Strickland winning, but he sees it as unlikely.
“I would say Sean has a tall mountain to climb,” Cannonier said. “Israel is 6-foot-4, pun intended. But I never count anyone out in this sport. He definitely has the skills to make something happen in there. But Izzy has the skills to make it not happen. It’d be hard to bet against Izzy.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 293.