UFC 276: Jared Cannonier 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole interviews Jared Cannonier ahead of his middleweight title fight against champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 276 on July 2 in Las Vegas. "The Killa Gorilla" discusses his journey from debuting in the UFC as a heavyweight to earning his first title shot at age 38.

Video transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. And UFC 276 will be on July 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It is a killer card, especially that main card. There are so many stars up and down that card, so many great fights, which I think is continuing the run that UFC has been on. UFC 275 was wild.

The main event is one that a lot of people are really looking forward to seeing. Israel Adesanya will make another defense of his title, this time against the number-one contender, "The Killa Gorilla" Jared Cannonier. Jared joins me right now. Jared, how are you, my friend?

JARED CANNONIER: I'm doing good. How are you doing?

KEVIN IOLE: I'm doing great. You know, I wanted-- I was looking at your record earlier, and it's pretty amazing. You have already fought, in your young career, six former UFC champions. One was an interim champion. But you know, Robert Whittaker, former middleweight champion, Kelvin Gastelum, former interim champion, Anderson Silva, of course, you know, legend middleweight champion, Jan Blachowicz, Glover Teixeira. I mean, that's pret--

So my question to you to start this interview would be this. What does facing that level of opposition do to you going into this title fight with Israel Adesanya? What is the benefit you get out of having fought those kind of guys?

JARED CANNONIER: It's definitely a confidence boost. It's definitely a nudge in your ego when you realize, hey, I've only lost to champions and former champions and, you know, title challengers and stuff like that. Outside of one, Shawn Jordan, who is just a big animal, big bear of a man anyway. But--

KEVIN IOLE: Football player. [CHUCKLES]

JARED CANNONIER: Yeah. [CHUCKLES] But you know, it's a little bit of confidence, a little bit of a boost of my ego. But you know, yes, good stuff. It feels good to know that I lost to the cream of the crop.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, you're coached by John Crouch at the MMA Lab in Arizona. And I want to ask you about John because, you know, I think a lot of people in the business know what a good coach he is. And you're an example of that. Since you've been with him, you've been on a major-league roll. What is it that he has done for you to help you take your game to the next level?

JARED CANNONIER: Well, Coach is the man. You know, he's very intelligent, very smart. He knows how this game goes, you know? So he's a very good-- a really good person to have in your corner, you know? We're at the point to where it's not him telling me everything to do, you know? At this level, you don't have-- you don't hand your corner the controller, and then you just, you know, go straight marionette and let them tell you everything to do. No.

We already have the skills ingrained in us. And the coaches are there, like, in the outside eye looking in. Hey, you do this, this can happen. Or, when you're in this position, let's think this way, or let's think that way. They're just giving you more avenues-- it's like a second brain, you know? We have our own brain. We have our own experiences. And then it's a very valuable second brain to have, you know? So that goes with all of my corners. But yeah, man. Coach has been doing this for a long time, you know? So--

KEVIN IOLE: Well, I guess what I was trying to get at, Jared, would be this. Because, you know, when you came into the UFC, a lot of people were talking about, you were a heavyweight who looked like this great athlete who, you know, might be able to really go a ways in that division. And your skill development from the-- when you came to the UFC till now is pretty significantly different. You know, can you explain a little bit about that journey and your ability to, as a mid-thirty fighter, keep adding on to your game and adding elements to your game as you move ahead?

JARED CANNONIER: Well, it's not hard, you know, as long as you're in the right place. And the program we have at the Lab, the team we have at the Lab-- it's like one-stop shop and everything under one roof. So it's nice. You know, I can go to one place and spend all my time there and get many different avenues and check off many different boxes, as far as the sport goes. And it's not just a bunch of random people walking up in there, you know? These are high-level competitors-- Jiu-Jitsu competitors, wrestling competitors, striking competitors, mixed-martial-arts professional competitors.

And yeah, I knew, when I came down-- I came down for a camp in 2014 for the fight with Shawn Jordan. And at that moment, just experiencing the program, seeing what everybody else was doing, following in their footsteps-- you know, that's brought us-- brought me all the way here, you know?

On top of that, myself-- when I throw myself into something, I'm not pussyfooting around, you know? I'm serious. I'm applying my mind to it. And it's fun learning all these new skills and techniques. It's very fun watching my body transform and change and adjust to it all and get better and stronger, which is only my goal, is actually responding to the goals that I have for it. So it's all good, man. I'm seeing the results. So it's easy to keep going back and getting more and more and more.

KEVIN IOLE: And when he says he's seeing the results, since he's been in middleweight, he's 5 and 1. And the only fight he lost was to Robert Whittaker where he blocks a kick and breaks his forearm. And that was, what, the first or second round, wasn't it?

JARED CANNONIER: That was the first minute of the first round.

KEVIN IOLE: OK, yeah. How do--


KEVIN IOLE: --you, as a striker, fight four rounds and four-- you know, I mean, how do you go that far with a broken arm?

JARED CANNONIER: Not good enough, apparently, 'cause I didn't win that [AUDIO OUT]. [CHUCKLES]

KEVIN IOLE: No, it was pretty amazing [INAUDIBLE]--

JARED CANNONIER: He busted my-- yeah, he busted my eye up pretty good. And yeah, it was-- you know, it was a good learning experience, you know? I realized that I wasn't really engaging him the way I needed to to get the job done. And it was hard to do it with one arm, you know? But still, it's still a lesson that I learned from that-- moving in to really put my hands on my target. So-- but man, it was not fun doing that shit, so--

KEVIN IOLE: I can imagine.

JARED CANNONIER: --I don't want to have to go through that again.

KEVIN IOLE: Now, fighting Adesanya is a totally different beast, right? I mean, he seems to be-- I can't think of anybody in the UFC that's better at making his opponents fight his fight than Israel Adesanya. In your mind, you know, what makes him so difficult to fight? And how do you break through that?

JARED CANNONIER: His control of distance and range, I think, is exceptional, you know? Nobody, I don't think-- I think the only person who's ever done that is-- to that-- I mean, not like him, but to the extent to gain-- you know what I'm saying? A championship, a reign supreme, is Jon Jones. So--

And there's a few guys at the smaller weight classes that do it as well, like Max Holloway. His boxing is just on point. He reminds me of one of those tall, skinny, long boxers who can touch you up and then move and then touch you up some more from a long distance away.

So I think-- and I've learned, over time-- and this is a thing [INAUDIBLE] came up with myself-- that footwork controls time and space, as far as combat sports goes. So dude's like Doctor Strange up in there with his footwork [AUDIO OUT]. But you know, if he's Doctor Strange, I'm Baron Mordo. So we got to have a fight.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to get your reaction to a quote that I read-- Josh Thomson, a former UFC lightweight. He's now an announcer for Bellator. He fought in Strikeforce for a while, a very successful fighter. He was talking about your fight and how you had to fight.

And he said, "you've always got to land something on the exit, make it a little dirty, grimy fight. If you allow Izzy to just feel comfortable in there, he'll be like Tank Davis, the boxer. He'll be just lighting you up. Izzy-- when he's in there, he's so relaxed, so composed. He feels that he sees everything and feels everything." What do you make of that comment? And do you agree with the sentiment he's expressing, that, you know, you have to basically make it a-- kind of a dirty, tough, rough fight?

JARED CANNONIER: I wouldn't say that you have to. You know, there are no hard lines in this sport. I don't care what anybody says. So if Jordan Burroughs got in there, he can wrestle him without even throwing a punch and win the fight. So you know, all this-- I don't like when people tell me that you have to do this or you have to do that. That's the whole reason why I quit my job in the first place, 'cause I got tired of people telling me where I have to be at what time, and having me do this and having me do that, you know?

So no. All I have to do is be the best version of myself. And that's going to be enough to fight and win a UFC title from Israel Adesanya. All these other people with the commentary and their assumptions-- I mean, they're not in my footsteps. They're not in my seat. They're not middleweight con-- they're not middleweight fighters. [CHUCKLES]

KEVIN IOLE: So you're able to--


KEVIN IOLE: --block out all the external noise and, like, that you don't--


KEVIN IOLE: Like, as a championship fighter, especially, that's-- it really ramps up, right? So you're able to block that all out?

JARED CANNONIER: Absolutely. It doesn't mean anything to me. All I know is that I just have to be a better fighter in all areas. But for striking, I'm going to-- I've got to be the better striker. I've got to be the one landing the better strikes. I got to be the one making him flinch and make his adjustments because I'm there. That's how it is when I fight people. I don't care how good a striker you are. I mean, I've gone up against kickboxers and stuff like that. And when I fig you out, you know, I'm going to take ownership of you.

So those first couple of minutes of the fight may be me having to figure him out or me putting some heat on him. Who knows? But everything he does, I'm going to be watching. I'm going to be reading. I'm going to be poised and ready to make him second guess every action he has. Every action, every move that he makes, I want to negate it. I want him to be the one in his head.

So that's my style, man. And when I get in there, like I said, the ref says go, I want to get bigger and bigger and bigger. And my opponent's going to get smaller and smaller and smaller. The cage is going to get smaller and smaller and smaller till my opponent feels like there's nowhere else to go.

KEVIN IOLE: Nowhere else to move. You know, everybody has their own journey as they get to the top. You know, Glover Teixeira-- when he won the championship, everybody was so happy for him for all he had gone through to get it. And you know, you're interesting. You were working a full-time job when you started MMA, right? I mean, it's-- you know, you were working for the FAA for a while.

And I wonder, like, if you pull this off and accomplish this, you know, it's a huge feat in your life and in your career. When you reflect on your journey, the signi-- can you talk about what the significance of this would be to you to be the UFC middleweight champion?

JARED CANNONIER: I haven't really thought about the significance of being the middleweight champion. Again, that's going way into the future. And when I start saying, it's going to be like this, I put that moment in a box. And I have to adhere to it in order to make it happen. And I don't want to adhere to anything that I don't want to adhere to.

And as far as the future goes, I don't want to adhere to it. I want to adhere to the present. And whatever happens in the future, I want to be prepared for it. So I don't focus on what it's going to feel like to be the UFC champion. It's going to feel like being Jared Cannonier, like nothing else nobody's ever experienced and nobody's ever going to be able to experience.

KEVIN IOLE: Is that something that you've gotten better at, in terms of, as you've gotten experience, not looking ahead and not allowing yourself to start think what it might mean or what might happen? You know, is that part of your journey, the fact that you learn those lessons along the way?

JARED CANNONIER: No, I think that's a life lesson that I learned, not necessarily from mixed martial arts. It's just a life lesson that I learned. Again, focusing on the future brings about stress and anxiety, you know what I'm saying? What may or may not be. What's going to happen? And now I got to go do this just to make sure it happens [INAUDIBLE]. I don't like handcuffing myself in that regard.

So I'm not a prisoner to my thoughts, you know? My thoughts are-- I want to use my thoughts to liberate myself, you know? My thoughts will express what's in my soul. So that's me, man. Being middleweight champion will be nothing compared to being alive. So life is going to continue to go on. And the belt may go away, you know? After I get my 16 rubies, the belt may go away.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS] That's a lot of rubies, baby.

JARED CANNONIER: It's a lot of rubies.

KEVIN IOLE: I obviously don't know what's in your soul, but I do know what's in this, right? That right hand of yours. And it seems like when you land that, it changes a lot of fights, and different things happen. How much do you think your power is a benefit to you? Like, because not even when you land your clean punch, but it just seems like you have that natural power. When you touch guys, it makes them react. You know, how much do you feel like that is a benefit to you?

JARED CANNONIER: It's a huge benefit. [CHUCKLES] It's a huge benefit to me, 'cause usually, when I hit somebody and knock them out, I'm not even trying to knock them out. So yeah, it's a huge benefit to have all that reserved power and not even have to-- and learning how not to use-- learning how to use just enough of it to get the job done and not put myself-- get myself out of position or put myself in bad positions.

So I'm learning more and more on how not to overextend myself on punches. I know I did that in the Brunson fight, at the end of that Brunson fight. And it led to that sequence where, you know, he's attempting a rear naked choke at the end. But it happens, I guess.

KEVIN IOLE: But that was a good win for you, though.


KEVIN IOLE: I mean, Brunson was on a roll, and you won that fight very impressively. That was a really big win for you.

JARED CANNONIER: Yeah, yeah. So that's just it-- staying composed and staying on task.

KEVIN IOLE: I'll wrap it up with this. You know, as we talk about your power, a lot of times, fighters say, I don't want to react to what he does. I want him to react to me. And it seems like your power forces people to maybe fight a little bit differently, because they know, in their mind, OK, I don't want to get touched by this guy, because I could be in trouble, right? And is that an advantage that maybe sometimes people don't think of? The fact that even if you don't hit somebody, they know you have that, and it forces them to fight you slightly differently?

JARED CANNONIER: You know, I believe that that's-- I think power isn't a factor-- I think power is a factor in all of these middleweight fights. I mean, when you're at this weight, it's there, you know? Everybody's got just enough power to change the scope of a fight. But yes, the fact that I have so much power-- [CHUCKLES] I mean, I'm not sure how people are going to react. I can't say how Israel's going to react to, you know, me swinging at him and all that stuff.

KEVIN IOLE: But you've seen it in other fights and how they react to you.

JARED CANNONIER: Yeah, I mean, they fight-- they fight. They fight. [CHUCKLES] Like, with Derek Brunson, you know, I didn't even-- I hadn't even-- I think I may have touched him. But man, when I-- just my presence alone. It's not even the power. It's the presence. You know, the power is associated with my presence. So it's my presence in there. It's my demeanor. It's my approach. That's what it is, that-- I don't want to say that it strikes fear, but causes concern, may trigger a certain reaction out of people.


JARED CANNONIER: But yeah, it's definitely a factor.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, it's going to be a fun UFC 276. As I said, it's July 2, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And this man will be bidding for the world title when he fights Israel Adesanya. Jared Cannonier, thank you so much, my friend. And best of luck to you in the championship fight.

JARED CANNONIER: Thank you, Kevin.