UFC Vegas 66: Jared Cannonier beats Sean Strickland by split decision in narrow win

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 17: (L-R) Jared Cannonier punches Sean Strickland in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 17, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jared Cannonier did just enough to get a close win over Sean Strickland. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

For 25 minutes in the final UFC fight of 2022 between Jared Cannonier and Sean Strickland at Apex in Las Vegas, there was this sense of impending doom. It seemed that either Cannonier or Strickland would at any second land a fight-changing punch and score the crucial victory.

It never came, as the two battled on almost even terms throughout. According to UFC Stats, Strickland outlanded Cannonier in significant strikes, 152-141. Strickland had a huge edge in strikes to the head, 126-57, but Cannonier had a 60-24 edge in body shots and a 24-2 edge in kicks to the leg.

The fight was close enough that either fighter could have won.

When the result was announced, it was Cannonier by split decision. Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo each had it 49-46 for Cannonier. However, Sal D’Amato had it 49-46 for Strickland. Yahoo Sports had it 48-47 for Cannonier.

In a curious twist, the only round that D’Amato scored for Cannonier was the fourth, while the only round Cleary scored for Strickland was the fourth.

“I thought I had it 3-2 [in rounds] so I was pretty confident that I’d won,” Cannonier said. “I did a little bit more damage. We saw the blood on his face from the first round and the second-to-last round. I thought it was a great fight, back and forth.”

Strickland’s corner kept urging him to throw a right teep kick whenever Cannonier switched stances, and he’s going to regret not following that advice. Cannonier fought a considerable portion of the fight in a southpaw stance and the right teep kick seemed a great tactic for Strickland.

He didn’t do it until the final seconds of the fight.

They both entered the fight coming off losses to the former and reigning champion. Cannonier lost a decision to then-champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 276 in July, while Strickland was knocked out on that card by Alex Pereira. On Nov. 12 at UFC 281 in New York, Pereira ended Adesanya’s reign as champion but scoring a fifth-round KO.

That opened things up in the division and both men knew a win would boost their hopes of a significant fight in their next outing.

They probed for openings and neither seemed willing to open up for the fear of being countered. Stickland stuck with a steady diet of jabs while Cannonier repeatedly chopped at his legs.

Cannonier praised Strickland for a smart game plan.

“Even as he was stepping in for his jab, he was doing a good job of not just walking forward like a freaking zombie,” Cannonier said.

With the win, Cannonier will remain ranked third, so he’s in a good position for a significant fight. That was his goal and in the final fight of the year, he pulled it off by the narrowest of margins.