UFC Vegas 34: Headliner Jared Cannonier talks Octagon past as a heavyweight

jared cannonier
Sep 28, 2019; Copenhagen, DEN; Jared Cannonier (blue gloves) is interviewed after defeating Jack Hermansson (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Royal Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

It may be hard to imagine for recent additions to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fanbase, but third-ranked middleweight, and UFC Vegas 34 headliner, Jared Cannonier once competed at heavyweight inside the Octagon. Changing divisions is no easy feat for a talented athlete, but “Killa Gorilla” is a rare exception as a success story two division’s removed from his start point.

Cannonier (13-5) made his promotion debut six years ago at UFC 182. On that night, he was a 235-pound heavyweight facing off with veteran big man Shawn Jordan, who weighed in at a hefty 261 pounds. His first Octagon appearance was unsuccessful and the 37-year-old recalls that time now with head-shaking humor.

Jared Cannonier recalls past as a much heavier ‘Gorilla’

“When I look back, I think, ‘Yea, that was me. Fat and happy, eating everything from anywhere,'” Cannonier told Megan Olivi with a laugh in a new interview for UFC.com. “But fearless, nonetheless. I knew I was never a natural heavyweight, so it was just consequential, ya know? It just happened. When I got into MMA, I just happened to be pretty big.”

Cannonier’s wake up call surrounded by giants

However, his loss in January of 2015 wasn’t an automatic wake-up call. That actually came in his follow-up win three months later against Cyril Asker. Despite an impressive first-round technical knockout victory, it was the other competitors on that card that opened his ideas to the idea that he needed to begin his move down, and away from the monsters in the UFC heavyweight division.

“My second fight was pretty interesting, it was [the UFCs] first fight in Croatia. That was fun to go all the way over there and get my first UFC win. Interestingly, that card had three other heayvweight fights. It was me and Cyril Asker, Francis Ngannou [vs] Curtis Blaydes, Derrick Lewis [vs] Gabriel Gonzaga, Ben Rothwell and Junior dos Santos. And all of them towered over me,” Cannonier remembers.

“Not only were they towering over me but they were filled in. They were big. Seeinig all those heavyweights in person sort of put it into perspective. If I wanted to be smart about my career, and really pursue this, I had to be smart about [his weight]. That incorporated dieting, working out more than once a day for four hours long. Being smarter about my exercise regimen. So it just had to happen. Me and the wife buckled down and came up with a better way to eat and better way to live with a cleaner diet.”

Following his decision to end his days as a heavyweight, he ended up three of four at light heavyweight. Coming up short in matchups with future champions and contenders in Jan Blachowicz and Dominic Reyes. He made his middleweight debut at UFC 230 in November of 2018. Since then, he’s won three of four and scored a TKO win over division legend Anderson Silva two years ago.

On August 21 he will look to bounce back from his loss to former weight class titleholder Robert Whittaker, and keep his name in the running for a title shot when he faces Kelvin Gastelum (17-7) inside Las Vegas’ UFC APEX.

The event starts at 7 pm ET and airs on ESPN 2 and ESPN+. The main card follows at 10 pm ET on ESPN and ESPN+.

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