Sean Strickland pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history on Saturday, outstriking and outpointing Israel Adesanya to win the middleweight title in Sydney.
Few fans or pundits believed that Strickland had a chance to dethrone Adesanya, one of mixed martial arts’ finest strikers, but the challenger combined constant forward movement with solid defence and clinical output at UFC 293.
In doing so, the controversial American – who claimed in 2021 that he would like to “kill” an opponent in the ring one day – beat Adesanya 49-46 on all three scorecards.
Strickland, 32, dropped the Nigerian-New Zealander late in Round 1 with a picture-perfect right cross, sending Adesanya spinning to the canvas before seeking a finish. Strickland could not quite find the knockout blow, however, as Adesanya, 34, survived to the buzzer.
The champion appeared to level the score in Round 2, remaining calm, switching stances and using feints to good effect – as he so often does. The “Last Stylebender” also worked the body of Strickland well, but the challenger would soon get back out in front.
The third round saw limited output from both middleweights, until Strickland landed a one-two, left hook and stinging jab late in the frame.
Still, the main event was in the balance, with Strickland’s coach Eric Nicksick telling him before the championship rounds: “I don’t want to lose a boring-ass decision.”
There was no sign whatsoever of Strickland looking to wrestle, despite many believing that such an approach would be his only chance of success. In fact, the American had a body-lock opportunity in Round 4, when Adesanya overshot a strike, but Strickland let go of his opponent.
While Adesanya increased his output in the final round, he was still a step behind Strickland, who continued to press forward and even began to talk to his rival late in the round.
When the final buzzer sounded, Nicksick hoisted a tearful Strickland aloft, before the American’s championship victory was confirmed. Adesanya then appeared to pay respect to Strickland, burying the hatchet after a heated build to their fight.
Much of Strickland’s post-fight, in-ring interview was censored by TNT Sports.
With the result, Adesanya lost the middleweight title for the second time. In November, he suffered a TKO loss to his old kickboxing rival Alex Pereira, but Adesanya regained the belt by knocking out the Brazilian in a rematch in April.
Pereira, who also knocked out Strickland last July, helped the American train for Saturday’s main event, which saw Strickland seal a third straight win since his loss to Pereira.
UFC 293 results
Sean Strickland def. Israel Adesanya (C) via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)
Alexander Volkov def. Tai Tuivasa via second-round submission (Ezekiel choke, 4:37)
Manel Kape def. Felipe dos Santos via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Justin Tafa def. Austen Lane via first-round TKO (punches, 1:22)
Tyson Pedro def Anton Turkalj via first-round KO (punches, 2:12)
Carlos Ulberg def. Da Un Jung via third-round submission (rear naked choke, 4:49)
Chepe Mariscal def. Jack Jenkins via second-round TKO (elbow injury, 3:19)
Jamie Mullarkey def. John Makdessi via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Nasrat Haqparast def. Landon Quinones via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Charlie Radtke def. Blood Diamond via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Gabriel Miranda def. Shane Young via first-round submission (rear naked choke, 0:59)
Kevin Jousset def. Kiefer Crosbie via first-round submission (rear naked choke, 4:49)