Live on the ground from Qudos Bank Arena (Sydney): There’s a certain magic in the air whenever a UFC title fight washes up on Australian shores. We witnessed it back in 2015 when Holly Holm dethroned Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. And this weekend, exactly one hundred pay-per-view events later at Sydney’s UFC 293, we witnessed it yet again when firebrand middleweight challenger Sean Strickland convincingly won the belt from a notably dominant champion in Israel Adesanya via Unanimous Decision.
In the lead-up to this much-criticised five-round bout, initially to be fought between Adesanya and his “African brother” Dricus du Plessis, the vast majority of the mixed martial arts world (both the experts and spectators alike) had framed Strickland’s professional demise as a foregone conclusion. The unifying rationale involved the latter’s rather unorthodox use of the Philly shell defense in the Octagon, which was the direct cause of his last career knockout loss to Adesanya’s career nemesis (and Strickland’s eventual training partner) Alex Pereira.
But keeping his hands lower than most would be comfortable with wasn’t as exploitable as everyone had assumed. In fact, Sean Strickland defied both expectations and the tasty 7-1 Vegas odds with plenty of forward pressure, almost automatic counters in every exchange, and a stunning opening round in which he was within a spider’s ass-hair of actually finishing the incumbent.
Israel Adesanya, by comparison, was uncharacteristically flat-footed, anaemic, and while he’s been known to proceed with caution in his previously unsolvable defence, today, the Nigerian-born New Zealander seemed entirely hesitant to engage. Even going into the championship round wherein he was down four rounds. Perhaps narrowly escaping being sent to the shadow realm in R1 had earned his respect for Strickland’s straight-right.
During the post-fight press conference, neither Adesanya himself — who opted to leave early after a few cursory remarks — nor his head coach/the mastermind behind City Kickboxing Gym Eugene Bareman — who sat and fielded questions in his star pupil’s place — had any answers regarding why we weren’t treated to a vintage performance from a notoriously unflappable striker.
“This is our team, this is how we do it. He wants to go, he wants to be protected, and it’s our job to protect him… this is his time. And this is his time of need right now,” explained Bareman.
“I think Sean’s a great fighter, and I didn’t think once that Sean wasn’t capable of beating Israel… There was an alternate universe where Israel performs his poorest or poorly and Sean could win. I’m sitting in that universe right now.”
“Training camp was great, I’m not going to make any excuses. Fight week was great, sparring partners, everything. They were all perfect, no excuses. He came in, he had an off night, he couldn’t see the things that we were seeing, he couldn’t make the connections we wanted. It was just a frustrating night.”
Now that the dust of UFC 293 has settled, crowning a new division king, Sean Strickland’s inaugural title defence as undisputed middleweight champion of the world’s leading MMA promotion will be decided by the outcome of Paulo Costa vs Khamzat Chimiaev at next month’s UFC 294 (and whether Uncle Dana forgives Dricus Du Plessis for turning down the title shot).
UFC 293 Results (Main Card)
- Sean Strickland def. Israel Adesanya via Unanimous Decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)
- Alexander Volkov def. Tai Tuivasa via Submission (Ezekiel Choke) | Round 2 (4:37)
- Manel Kape def. Felipe dos Santos via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Justin Tafa def. Austen Lane via TKO (Strikes) | Round 1 (1:22)
- Tyson Pedro defeats Anton Turkalj by TKO (strikes) at 2:12 of Round 1
- Carlos Ulberg def. Da Woon Jung via Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) | Round 3 (4:49)
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