Cannonier has not fought since he was defeated by no. 1 contender and former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in the co-main event of UFC 254 in Oct. 2020.
Gastelum, on the other hand, will be fighting for the third time in 2021 when he faces off against Cannonier.
The 29-year-old veteran kicked the year off with a victory when defeated Ian Heinisch by unanimous decision at UFC 258 in February. But Gastelum suffered a unanimous decision loss to Robert Whittaker when he filled in on short notice for Paulo Costa in the main event of UFC Vegas 24 in April.
Speaking at UFC Vegas 34 media day, Cannonier said he does not think of Gastelum as his desired opponent at this point in his career.
“Kelvin was the lone standout if you will, of what’s the word– of fighters that I would say yes to,” Cannonier said at media day. “If they would have gave me somebody with no number next to their name, that would have been a waste of my time. Not necessarily, because I like to fight, and I’ll fight anybody, but as far as my career goes that’s not the one that I want.”
Cannonier added that even though Gastelum was not the first fighter Cannonier would have wanted as an opponent, he took the fight because he held him in high regard.
“Kelvin isn’t ideal, given the position. I want a contender’s fight, I want to fight for the title,” Cannonier said. “But in a sense, Kelvin is ideal because I respect him a lot. I understand who he is and what he is and what he’s done. From his performances I can see the things that he’s capable of and I just know the sport. I know the game.
“We know how fights go, so I know I can see what Kelvin has brought in his last fight and I’m well aware of the danger he presents in there. We’re all aware of his standing as far as being a fighter [in] MMA. The number nine next to his name, the fact that there’s a number there is good. It’s sort of like the same position I was in when I fought Hermansson. He was ranked number three, I was ranked number nine. So it’s kind of like the exact same thing, but we’re gonna have a different ending.”
With a win over Gastelum, Cannonier could easily find himself with a top five opponent for his next fight.