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Jared Cannonier Splits From Sean Strickland

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The UFC ended the year with one of its most balanced fights of the year.

Recent middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier (16-6 MMA, 9-6 UFC) raised his hand in the main event of UFC Fight Night 216 with a split decision over Sean Strickland (25-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC). Cannonier got a pair of scores of 49-46 from the three judges; a dissenting judge had it 49-46 for Strickland. The striking stats were close during UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

“I thought it was 3 (rounds) to 2,” Cannonier said in his post-fight interview. “I was pretty confident that I had 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 complicated – it was just conventional. Sean has a good eye for that distance.

“I would definitely like another shot at the title – sooner rather than later. But at this point, I’m ranked number 3. I just beat number 6. … Anyone above me that would take me to the title match, or the title match, that’s what we’re aiming for.

About a minute later, Cannonier was the first to start opening it up with some kicks and jabs that got past. But Strickland stayed in the pocket and tried to escape when Cannonier played. The Cannonier’s right hand went through, but the pace was cautious. When Strickland put together a pair of rights, Cannonier pushed a little and backed him into the fence. Halfway through, he landed a solid body kick. In the third minute, Cannonier took a shot which Strickland caught and used to drive Cannonier to the canvas. They didn’t stay there long, but Strickland tied up Cannonier when they got up. Once they broke apart, neither fighter had a clear advantage going into second.

In the second, the pace remained steady as Cannonier tried to understand Strickland. He worked leg kicks that kept Strickland backing as Cannonier tried to find a powerful shot. Strickland’s pace seemed conservative, perhaps in an effort to play the long game and save energy for later rounds. With 45 seconds left in the round, Strickland found an opening for a solid combination that appeared to give Cannonier pause for a moment, but Cannonier landed a solid right hand just short of the horn.

The third was pretty much the same as the first two rounds. Cannonier continued to work on kicks and hoped to find a home for the kind of right hands that would end the fight, but it wasn’t there as Strickland remained elusive. And on Strickland’s side, the story was similar.

Ninety seconds into the fourth, Cannonier threw a solid leg kick that Strickland checked, proving that even 15 minutes into the fight neither fighter had more of an advantage than when the fight began. Midway through fourth, Strickland looked to shift into the next gear, but that didn’t 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 as Strickland tied him to the fence. But a few seconds later, Cannonier put together another flurry for perhaps the two most interesting sequences in the fight up to that point.

The fight looked to be on the line in the 20th minute, and both fighters’ corners tried to make it clear that it could be anyone’s. Cannonier continued to change positions in the last round, which did not help Strickland’s cause in following the instructions from the corner. But he landed a punch for a minute that pushed Cannonier back, and a jab not long after got through, followed by two more. Halfway through, after Strickland landed a solid jab, Cannonier fought back with big punches that knocked Strickland’s head back. But seconds later, that situation was reversed.

Stunning totals stayed close to 25 minutes, and the only truly visible damage was a bloody nose from Strickland. Cannonier kept swinging as if he wanted a breakout from a batter, and Strickland responded in the final 20 seconds. But it still seemed like no one knew what the scores would be.

The middleweight bout headlined UFC Fight Night 216 at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Updated results from UFC Fight Night 216 include:

  • Jared Cannonier defeated. Sean Strickland via split decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)
  • Arman Tsarukyan defeated. Damir Ismagulov via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Amir Albazi defeated. Alessandro Costa by KO (punches) – Round 3, 2:13
  • Alex Caceres def. Julian Erosa by TKO (head kick, punches) – Round 1, 3:04
  • Drew Dober defeated. Bobby Green by KO (punches) – Round 2, 2:45
  • Michal Oleksiejczuk defeated. Cody Brundage via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:16
  • Cory McKenna defeated. Cheyanne Vlismas by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Matt Semelsberger defeated. 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 defeated. 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 defeated. Journey Newson via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

To learn more about the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 216.