LAS VEGAS – While Saturday's UFC 276 event is unquestionably the biggest moment of Jared Cannonier's professional career, "The Killa Gorilla" is doing his best to minimize the enormity of the opportunity.
"The emotions aren't too different from a normal fight week," Cannonier told MMA Underground. "I'm not really putting too much extra pressure on myself. Fighting is stressful enough, if you will, so not that I'm taking it easy or anything. I work hard, regardless, and I'm coming in there with the same self-belief, the same confidence, the same energy that I plan on using to get the win."
Cannonier (15-5 MMA, 8-5 UFC) competes in the main event of Saturday's card at T-Mobile Arena, where he looks to unseat reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC).
Adesanya has already registered five successful defenses of the UFC's 185-pound title and is currently ranked No. 3 in the promotion's pound-for-pound rankings. "The Last Stylebender" has been dominant in his UFC run and is already starting to lap the field of top contenders, owning two wins over the No. 1-ranked Robert Whittaker, as well as two wins over the No. 3-ranked Marvin Vettori.
Enter No. 2-ranked Cannonier, who refuses to put Adesanya on any sort of pedestal, regardless of his past accomplishments.
"Another day in the office, man," Cannonier said. "I'm not, like, looking up at the idea of being this. I'm coming down and taking part in this. You know what I'm saying? I'm stepping up off of my throne to take part in this, to exchange with my people, you guys, everybody, with Israel, you know what I'm saying? So that's where I'm coming from. That's my perspective. I'm here to win it. That's it."
Oddsmakers heavily favor Adesanya, with the champ currently listed as a -400 favorite at SI Sportsbook, implying an 80 percent probability of victory. But Cannonier does present some potential issues for Adesanya, with 10 knockouts among his 15 career wins as a professional.
With Adesanya's striking prowess based on slick movement and a mastery of space and timing, one-shot knockout power could prove as a way to level the playing field. For his part, Cannonier doesn't necessarily believe he has to turn the fight into a brawl if he hopes to have his hand raised.
"It could be a clean fight if one can control that torrential ocean of techniques that he's throwing at you, you know, so that's a tall order right there," Cannonier said. "That's a hard task to do, but it's possible, and I don't need to throw as much techniques as he's throwing at me to make it work, so I plan on using all the right skills, all the right techniques, to make the fight so I can be the beneficiary of this exchange here, you know, so I can win.
"Yes, I will be employing techniques, but it won't be no tit-for-tat sort of thing. I'm not going to take technique for technique with this guy. Like I said before, I'm not trying to have a 'Fight of the Night' with him. I want to get a 'Performance of the Night.' I want to go out there, handle my business, put my hands on him. If I could touch him once and put him to sleep, that's perfect for me, you know? But a fight's a fight, he's going to resist, naturally, and I'm prepared for that. I'm more prepared for this fight than excited for all the other stuff that goes along with it."
Cannonier knows he's got his share of doubters, and Adesanya certainly isn't short on confidence, promising to deliver a highlight-reel finish in the contest. For his part, Cannonier isn't willing to acknowledge it and is choosing to focus on only positive outcomes.
"I don't really think about what other people say, so I don't have any thoughts on what he said or what he's saying," Cannonier said. "My thoughts are only on what he's going to attempt to do Saturday night and what I'm going to do Saturday night, so there's a lot of people saying a lot of different things, and like damn near all of them are counting me out, so why do I even pay attention to what people say? That's on the negative side of me getting my win. That doesn't serve me, that doesn't help me, that doesn't bring me any sort of joy, so I'm not focusing on that.
"That doesn't hurt me. Those are just words floating out in the air. I'm not going to sit here and try to catch them like a guy with a butterfly net trying to catch – you know what I'm saying? It's a no. They can sit out there and do their thing. And those words will eventually die, and I will continue to thrive."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.