Ask any professional fighter where they would like to fight, and one of the most common answers you’ll get back is going to be “Madison Square Garden.”
On Saturday, when the UFC takes over the hallowed New York City arena with UFC 230, many fighters will get the chance to do just that.
Jared Cannonier is one of those fighters — although he wasn’t added to the card until very recently. The former heavyweight and light heavyweight, now a middleweight, was set to fight Alessio Di Chirico in Argentina later in November. However, Cannonier then accepted a short-notice fight against David Branch at UFC 230, replacing Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who will now fight Chris Weidman in the co-main event.
“It was super easy,” Jared Cannonier told BJPENN.COM of his decision to step in against Branch. “From my mind, I was going to take the fight. I had to make contact with the coaches and let them know. They understand this is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. They were excited about it and they have complete trust in me. I have been working hard ever since my last fight. They know that I’m ready. I know I’m ready.”
With the decision made, and the bout agreement signed, Jared Cannonier was forced to adjust his training camp to focus on his new fight with Branch. While this has been a challenge, he doesn’t think it will impact him at all.
“It affects it the same way it affects any change,” he said. “For me, in my mind, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get in there and scrap with anybody. This one is a difference because I was fighting a southpaw, more of a counter-striker. Going up against Branch, he is orthodox, a pressure fighter, he likes to push the pace. He is a black belt under Renzo Gracie. Of course, he is ranked, you know, so it is a huge difference as far as camp goes. Two weeks out you can’t make huge changes, just make quick adjustments and trust the training that I already have.”
As a Renzo Gracie black belt, Branch is one of the best jiu jitsu players Cannonier has fought to date. While this means there’s a good chance he’ll attempt to take the fight to the ground, Cannonier isn’t too worried about that.
“At the MMA Lab, we have top of the line black belts,” he said. “We have active black belts who compete in jiu-jitsu who are on the team. We have Benson Henderson who is a black belt and a very good wrestler. One of my training partners, and good friend, Joe Murphy, he is a super good black belt… long, strong. We have some really good grappler, wrestlers. The time I spent on those mats. People can discredit my ground game if they want, but they don’t know my ground game. I want to be the mystery, I don’t want people to say what I am going to do because I am unpredictable. That’s the way I like to keep it.”
Even though this fight represents a massive challenge, the 34-year-old Jared Cannonier feels more than ready. He knows he has what it takes to defeat Branch. While he has not yet established himself in the middleweight division, he already feels his skills should be striking fear in the hearts of his rivals.
“They should definitely fear my striking skills,” he said. “If he pressures me, he is going to feel some leather on his head. If he can withstand it, then it may go longer than I would like. I would like to hit him once, lay him out, that would be ideal. The fans will see. It is a big card. It is a pay-per-view card, on the main card and it is at MSG, that’s huge. Everybody is going to be watching.”
With the fight now just days away, and Cannonier just arriving in New York, it is starting to finally hit him that he’s about to fight in an arena that has hosted to some of the biggest fights in combat sports history.
“For every fighter, that is generally every fighter’s dream come true to fight and win at MSG. There is a lot of glory to be had at that arena,” he said.
Given that he’s fought as high as heavyweight in the past, Cannonier has been fielding many questions about this short-notice cut to middleweight. MMA fans saw last weekend that it is hard to make weight on short notice fights as Michael Johnson missed weight for his fight Artem Lobov. It is especially concerning for a fighter who is moving down a weight class. Even with all these factors working against him, though, Cannonier is confident making weight won’t be a problem.
“Not at all. If anything, the fight being two weeks before my original fight, it initially put me right on track,” said Jared Cannonier. “I would have been ahead of schedule if I would have been fighting in Argentina originally. Weight cut won’t be an issue for me.”
If Cannonier is able to defeat Branch in this fight, it will send him rocketing up the UFC middleweight rankings. Yet no matter the outcome of the fight, Cannonier is hoping to fight more frequently in 2019.
This UFC 230 fight will be just his second fight of the year. He has been hoping to fight more but believes he knows why he isn’t getting offers.
“Well, I would like to [fight more],” he said. “I believe, I’m assuming, because of my contract they won’t put me in there five or six times a year. That is a lot of money they would have to shove out. I don’t know if they have a salary cap or what. I would like to fight more but scheduling, they only have so many fights they can put on a year. They have to be smart with how they do business. Whatever man, I just try to stay ready. That is all I can do, stay ready, stay prepared. If they call me, with a fight coming up and I’m not ready, well that’s my fault for not being ready. MMA is a year-round sport, there is no off-season for us.”
Even though he hasn’t been fighting as often as he’d like, Jared Cannonier’s goal heading into UFC 230 is simple. Just win, and force the UFC to match him up against other top fighters. Branch is the first step toward making himself a top middleweight contender.
“Well, when I beat Branch, it is going to open some eyes,” he said. “I am getting close to the end of my contract and hopefully, the UFC, or whoever cuts the cheques put’s a bigger number next to the name. It will definitely raise my stock, not only in the UFC but the MMA community in general.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/31/2018.