Jared Cannonier took the spoils in the final UFC event of 2022 as he edged a split-decision verdict after going all five rounds with Sean Strickland at UFC Vegas 66.
The two middleweight contenders went back and forth for the full five-round duration at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas in a bout that was a tight, cagey affair in the most part, with both men jockeying and feinting for the opening, but rarely finding sustained success in any of the rounds.
It made the fight an incredibly tricky one to score, and that difficulty was reflected in the judges’ scorecards, with the scorers split on the eventual victor.
Remarkably, judges Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato tendered completely opposite scorecards, as they scored the bout 49-46 for Cannonier and Strickland, respectively, with opposing views on each and every one of the five rounds.
The third judge, Junichiro Kamijo, scored the bout 49-6 to Cannonier, but returned a different set of scores to those of Cleary. But unlike last weekend at UFC 282, this wasn’t a controversial set of scores. The bout was particularly tricky to judge, and there were no cries of robbery from Strickland as Cannonier was announced as the winner.
Despite the tight nature of the bout, Cannonier thought he had edged the encounter.
“I thought I had it 3-2,” he told Paul Felder after his victory.
“I did a little bit more damage. I thought I did enough.”
One of the key weapons “The Killa Gorilla” used during the bout was his leg kicks, and he admitted that Strickland’s expert control of range in tandem with his slick jab made his own kicking game essential to his victory.
“It was definitely one of the answers to his jab,” he explained.
“We had a whole playbook of answers, but that one worked good enough.”
Cannonier’s win keeps him right in the title picture at 185 pounds and, after his unsuccessful challenge against Israel Adesanya in the summer, plus Adesanya’s subsequent title loss to Alex Pereira, the American is hopeful that he can earn himself another shot, either against the new champion, or the one who turned him back earlier this year.
“I would definitely like another title shot – sooner, definitely, than later,” he said.
“I’m ranked number three, I just beat number six. I believe Whittaker and Costa are due to fight next year, and Adesanya doesn’t have a fight yet … But a title fight is what I’m looking for.”
Tsarukyan continues to climb
In the co-main event, rising lightweight contender Arman Tsarukyan underlined his credentials by snapping the 19-fight win streak of Kazakhstan’s Damir Ismagulov.
Former M-1 Global champion Ismagulov may not have carried a household name, but his remarkable run of form – including five straight wins in the UFC Octagon – put him 12th in the UFC’s lightweight rankings.
But the No. 9-ranked Tsarukyan executed the perfect gameplan to shut down Ismagulov through three full rounds and earn a shutout victory on the scorecards, with all three judges scoring the bout 30-27 in his favor.
After the fight, Tsarukyan said he wants Top 5 opposition next, and stated his intention to earn a rematch with the newly-crowned lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, who he faced in a losing effort on his short-notice Octagon debut back in 2019.
Main card highlights
The main card kicked off with four knockout finishes, starting with Poland’s Michal Oleksiejczuk settling into his new weight class of middleweight with a big TKO finish of Cody Brundage.
Oleksiejczuk formerly competed at light heavyweight, but dropped to the 185-pound division in August and defeated Sam Alvey. In his second appearance as a middleweight, he finished Brundage with strikes to register back-to-back wins and set his sights further up the middleweight ladder.
The knockout of the night came courtesy of Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres, whose left high-kick finish of the in-form Julian Erosa had the crowd at the UFC Apex on their feet in appreciation.
After a dominant display, rising flyweight contender Amir Albazi saw his stock rise further with an impressive third-round knockout of debutant Alessandro Costa.
But the fight of the night came in the second bout of the main card, as Drew Dober produced a come-from-behind win with a huge second-round knockout of Bobby Green.
Green’s slick counter-punching style saw “King” repeatedly light up Dober, who continued to push forward, despite being busted up by Green’s accurate shots.
And, despite being comprehensively outboxed by his opposite number, Dober persevered and, after backing Green against the fence, connected with a huge left hand to knock out his man and register his eighth knockout in the UFC lightweight division, tying the record held by former interim champion Dustin Poirier.
UFC Vegas 66: Official Results
- Jared Cannonier def. Sean Strickland via split decision (49-46, 46-49, 49-46)
- Arman Tsarukyan def. Damir Ismagulov via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Amir Albazi def. Alessandro Costa via knockout (punch) – Round 3, 2:13
- Alex Caceres def. Julian Erosa via TKO (head kick and punches) – Round 1, 3:04
- Drew Dober def. Bobby Green via knockout (punch) – Round 2, 2:45
- Michal Oleksiejczuk def. Cody Brundage via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:16
- Cory McKenna def. Cheyanne Vlismas via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Matthew Semelsberger def. Jake Matthews via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Said Nurmagomedov def. Saidyokoub 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 def. 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 def. Journey Newson via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)