Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov prediction, pick: Will ‘Killa Gorilla’ continue another title push?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom goes in depth to break down the biggest fights in the UFC. Today, he takes a closer look at the UFC on ESPN 57 main event between former middleweight title challenger Jared Cannonier and Nassourdine Imavov.

Jared Cannonier UFC on ESPN 57 preview

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 40 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 77.5″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Marvin Vettori (June 17, 2024)

  • Camp: MMA Lab (Arizona)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA titles
+ 10 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Improved ability to counter
^ Dangerous hooks and uppercuts
+ Hard leg kicks
^ From both stances
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Serviceable wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Shows improved getups/scrambles
+ Works well from topside
^ Heavy ground-and-pound

Nassourdine Imavov UFC on ESPN 57 preview

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 28 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 75″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Roman Dolidze (February 3, 2024)

  • Camp: Venum Training Center (France)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA title
+ 5 knockout victories
+ 4 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ Solid feel for range and movement
+ Works well off of lead hand
^ Hard hooks and uppercuts
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Frames well for knees and elbows
+ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Serviceable wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Deceptive front-choke acumen
+ Grapples well from topside

Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov point of interest: Middleweight mashup

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)

The main event for UFC on ESPN 57 features another middleweight matchup between two men who are incredibly offensively-minded.

Steadily developing a hard-hitting game since stepping onto the UFC scene, Cannonier has made marked improvements under the care of John Crouch and the rest of the coaching staff at The MMA Lab. Now, moving much more smoothly, Cannonier can shift his stance pre or post-combination, punctuating his presence with greater effect than before.

Typically utilizing pressure to create openings for offense, Cannonier keeps hard shots on a hair trigger, ready to come forward or counter at the drop of a dime. The 13-year pro has also seemingly picked up his stablemate’s knack for throwing the calf kick (or low leg kicks), showing the ability to attack his opponent’s lower extremities from both stances.

However, Cannonier is still not beyond being kicked or countered himself, so I’ll be curious to see how he approaches someone like Imavov.

Although he appears to possess a natural aptitude for countering, Imavov also has a penchant for piecing together offense off of his lead hand.

From active feints to sneaky hooks off of his jab, Imavov seems to have a solid sense of range that helps fuel his attacks. And when Imavov can corral his opposition toward the cage, the Russia-born fighter is not afraid to unleash everything from hooking combinations to flying knees.

Nevertheless, Imavov’s low-handed guard and sometimes lackadaisical approach to his offense have cost him both when coming forward (in the form of counters) and when going backward in extended exchanges (as Imavov’s head will also go upright when retreating in straight lines).

Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov breakdown: Potential grappling threats

Jun 10, 2023; Vancouver, BC, Canada; Nassourdine Imavov applies a hold against Chris Curtis during UFC 289 at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the potential for chaos on the feet, no one should be shocked if this party hits the floor on Saturday.

Even though the fighter from France doesn’t have a lot of takedown attempts on the stat sheet, Imavov’s offensive nature often finds himself flowing or crashing into clinch space in his fights.

Imavov will sometimes parlay this momentum into opportunistic level-changing takedown attempts that either score or allow him to secure his foes along the fence.

Imavov has seemingly absorbed a lot of the muay Thai swagger seen in a lot of Fernand Lopez fighters, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 28-year-old utilize his solid framing game in close to land some vicious elbows and knees of his own. That said, Imavov now has a new team behind him, and I’m not sure how much he’ll want to go strength-for-strength with a guy like Cannonier in closed quarters.

Spending a decent chunk of his UFC career fending off grapplers, Cannonier has proven to be absolute dynamite in small spaces.

From his improved ability to defensively scramble to the slugging shots that he sneaks in mid-transition, the 40-year-old has come a long way from the light heavyweight who was prone to playing guard when taken down. And when Cannonier is the one who ends up on topside, the “Killa Gorilla” is quick to unleash hell from above in the form of unforgiving ground-and-pound.

Imavov is a solid transitional grappler from topside (particularly when working against the fence), but he’ll need to demonstrate improved urgency should he end up underneath Cannonier.

Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov odds

The oddsmakers and the public are slightly siding with the younger fighter, listing Imavov as a slight favorite at -128 and Cannonier a slight underdog at +100, via FanDuel.

Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov prediction, pick

Even though part of me expected Imavov to be a larger betting favorite, it’s still hard to be confident in him over five rounds due to his propensity to flag in fights. That said, it’s also difficult to be too bullish on Cannonier considering that the 40-year-old competitor is coming off a decent layoff and knee injury.

If Imavov can pull some bad defensive reactions out of Cannonier early via feints or double jabs, then nobody should be surprised if the native of France can finish the American early with a well-placed cross.

Aside from struggling against southpaws, fighters who can both counter and offer straight shots down the pike have traditionally provided problems for Cannonier, regardless of stance.

Still, I have a hard time picking against Cannonier in this spot.

Not only is Cannonier the more proven fighter, but the MMA Lab product has shown that he can come back from adversity and fight hard for five frames without flagging. For that reason, I’ll swing the other way and side with Cannonier to edge out the scorecards with the more impactful blows down the stretch.

Prediction: Cannonier by decision

Jared Cannonier vs. Nassourdine Imavov start time, where to watch

As the main event, Cannonier and Imavov are expected to make their walks to the octagon at approximately 10:30 p.m. ET. The fight broadcasts live on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 57.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie