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Cannonier blames ref for ‘gut-wrenching’ UFC Louisville loss: ‘Herzog got the finish in that fight’

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier v Imavov
Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Jared Cannonier is pointing the finger at referee Jason Herzog for his UFC Louisville loss.

In the middleweight main event of this past Saturday’s card in Kentucky, Cannonier lost to Nassourdine Imavov via a controversial fourth-round TKO when Herzog stepped in to wave off the bout as Cannonier defended himself from an Imavov flurry.

While Cannonier was visibly wobbled prior to the stoppage, he does not believe he was in immediate danger of being stopped and he was deeply disappointed by Herzog’s call.

“When it happened, it was gut-wrenching, to say the least,” Cannonier said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I definitely took some time to collect myself, had to go back and rewatch the fight and really relive the whole thing all over again, and it was really gut-wrenching. It feels like the opportunity to do great things was pretty much stolen from me in that moment. It’s just something that, as fighters, we win or we lose and then we have to live with it, and it’s definitely not fun, it doesn’t get any easier every time.

“It doesn’t feel like I lost the fight. I just felt like it was taken from me, the opportunity to persevere, which is one thing I’ve done in a lot of my fights, and continue on and try to make good on the fight. Gut-wrenching is an understatement.”

The loss was a disappointing blow to Cannonier, who was coming off consecutive wins over Marvin Vettori and Sean Strickland. Cannonier defeated Strickland in December 2022, but Strickland surprisingly went on to capture the middleweight title the following year; with that win on his résumé, Cannonier was in good position to challenge for a championship himself, but now sees himself bumped back a few spots in the contenders’ line.

Cannonier was up on two of the judges’ scorecards heading in to Round 4, which makes the ending of the fight even tougher to stomach.

“When he hit me with the shot, it was a good shot,” Cannonier said. “Definitely took my equilibrium away, but I was definitely in recovery mode. I had my wits about me, I was able to create some distance and then turn to face my opponent. Of course, he did everything he was supposed to do. He kept the pressure on and tried to mount a good offense to try to finish the fight, but I was still there. My hands were up, I was covering up most of those shots.

“Especially in the final sequence, I even threw a counter strike, a nice clean counter strike that I think landed, and then I put my hands right back up to defend for whatever was coming next and that’s when the ref stepped in. Definitely the absolute worst time for him to step in, right after I throw a shot. I’m competently defending myself, my eyes are clear, I’m looking at my opponent, I’m creating space, I’m just intelligently trying to recover from that sequence. … It’s frustrating as hell to go back and watch it every time. I’ve watched it, like, seven or eight times. It’s frustrating as hell every time.

“I felt like I was definitely winning that fight up until that point,” he continued. “Nassourdine was definitely getting some momentum in that fight, in the later moments in the fight, but still at that moment I was winning the fight. … The opportunity to persevere was just snatched away from me, not to mention the chance to get those two checks. My second check, my win bonus check, and probably even that moment could have made it a Fight of the Night. Had the fight kept going, that moment could have made it a Fight of Night, so it could have been a potential performance bonus. I feel like the opportunity was just taken away from me as well as Nassourdine, the opportunity for him to have a clean finish, a clean win, for him to go in. Instead, we have this controversy that we have to deal with.”

Cannonier entered the pivotal contest with a lot on his mind. Two weeks before the fight with Imavov, Cannonier’s wife suffered a miscarriage. As if that emotional blow wasn’t enough, Cannonier also experienced a medical emergency during fight camp due to a severe allergic reaction.

The middleweight contender takes little solace in the fact that so many people — from fans to peers to UFC staff — seemed to agree that he was robbed on Saturday night.

“I think [UFC officials are] all in agreement that it was a very bad stoppage, like a horrible stoppage,” Cannonier said. “I think the whole world is in agreement that that was the worst thing that could have happened that night, that fight ending the way it ended. So yes, they’re all in agreement.

“As far as any compensation, I don’t know, I want to petition for a rematch. The UFC is going to Paris in September. I would love to go to Nassourdine’s backyard and make that right. He’ll have the home field advantage, it won’t be people chanting, ‘U.S.A.’, it will be people chanting ‘français’ or however they say France in French, but that’s what I would like in order to make that right.”

Herzog is widely respected as one of the best referees in the game, but that doesn’t matter to Cannonier, who feels he was given a raw deal by the veteran official. He wondered if Herzog got caught up in the moment and made a rash decision to stop the contest.

“I don’t want to sit here and trash Jason Herzog, he’s one of the best referees in the game, but he definitely made a big mistake in this regard,” Cannonier said. “It was a huge mistake, a grave mistake, especially as far as I’m concerned. Again, I doubt they think about this — this is my career. My career was pretty much in his hands and he decided that it ain’t worth fighting for. But this is a fight.

“I think a lot of these refs need to understand that we’re going to get hit. Sometimes we’re going to get rocked, but when we’re intelligently defending ourselves like they always say, you need to step aside and let this thing happen. When there’s a clear and concise reason for you to step in, like my hands are down and I’m just getting hit over and over — not my hands are up and he’s hitting me on the guard and I’m swinging back, that’s not the time to step in. I don’t know, maybe some emotional desensitization training should be had so they don’t get super excited in these moments.”

The way Cannonier sees it, there’s only one way to make this right: Book an immediate rematch with Imavov. And based on the frustration he’s feeling right now, preferably without Herzog as the third man in the cage.

“It was a human error, I feel,” Cannonier said. “These things happen when you’re in the mix and it’s a high, intense moment. It’s unfortunate, but it’s still no excuse that I should have to live with it. So to make it right, a rematch in Paris, I think that will bring some more eyes to the fight, eyes to that card, it will be good for me. I don’t think Nassourdine would agree, but I don’t care what he thinks. I’m sure he wants to go on to his title, he wants to fight Sean Strickland and avenge that loss, but he didn’t win that fight.

“That last sequence was me vs. Nassourdine vs. Jason Herzog, and Jason Herzog got the finish in that fight, not Nassourdine. So if he wants to get that finish, if he wants to be the one to say he finished ‘Tha Killa Gorilla’ and actually finish me, then let’s do that rematch in Paris. I’ll go to your backyard and we can make it happen. That’s what I would like to have happen.”

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