International Fight Week is one of the most special of the UFC season. Many celebrity fighters gather in Las Vegas and everything culminates with a high-priced card of events at T-Mobile Arena.
UFC 276 is here, and one of the top matchups is going to be the main event middleweight fight between Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier.
Adesanya (183.5 pounds) is defending his middleweight belt for the fifth time. This comes after beating former champion Robert Whitaker for the second time and, in addition, having a streak of 21 wins.
The bookmakers at BetMGM see him as the clear favorite, offering Adesanya at -500 to win after he opened at -350. However, the handle action has been nearly split with Connonier drawing 52 percent. He has also been backed by 70 percent of the spread bets.
Adesanya has been the far more popular choice at DraftKings, drawing 90 percent of the bets and 86 percent of the handle at -475.
Adesanya's kickboxing is complemented by a 6-foot-4 frame and an 80-inch reach, allowing him to choose opponents apart from his preferred range. Kelvin Gastelum, Whittaker and Paulo Costa paid the price for charging against such an experienced and fluid counterpuncher.
When Adesanya (22-1) is a very complete fighter who has proven unstoppable at middleweight, winning the UFC belt in that division six times.
Adesanya has not been in his most dominating form recently. He only defeated Whittaker and Marvin Vettori by decision. His approach in both was somewhat lackluster as he waited for the opportunity for a takedown instead of launching an offensive assault. Instead, he was more reactive, waiting to see what his opponent would do.
That won't be the case Saturday night.
Adesanya's advantage in terms of wingspan is key. He packs more of a punch and, above all, can take advantage of Cannonier's failure to punish him. Pressure and trying to take the fight to wrestling or to the ground is what he will likely shoot for.
The second-ranked Cannonier (184.5 pounds) has only experienced one loss in his current classification. It was at the hands of Whittaker. The experienced 38-year-old fighter holds a 5-1 record in the division.
Killa Gorilla, as Connonier likes to be called, is an explosive athlete who can change the landscape of a fight with a single punch. As such, his success on Saturday night will depend on whether he can override Adesanya's physical advantages and safely enter the attack range to place his bombs.
Because of his recent performances, including six straight wins, Cannonier (15-5) has an opportunity to overcome obstacles and take the underdog win. At 360, he's a long way from convincing oddsmakers, but he's finding support from bettors. Roughly 73% of the wagers BetMGM has taken on this bout have been in his favor.
Aside from his knockout power, Cannonier, who started as a heavyweight before dropping down in class, isn't a fighter with a lot of creativity. His technique is average, although he knows how to get inside before launching an attack.
Since his debut in the middleweight class, Cannonier's only loss in six fights has been to Whittaker. Gastelum and Derek Brunson are his most recent victims.
If Adesanya is at 100 percent and hits his target when striking, the outcome seems clear. However, if he makes a false move or leaves an opening, Cannonier can emerge and steal the victory.
UFC 276 begins at 3 p.m. local time. The second round of preliminaries will start at 5 p.m. and the star undercard will start at 7 p.m.
--Erik Gibbs, Field Level Media