Sports Writer Kiaan Davids provides an in -depth roundup of the weekend’s UFC action.
Going into UFC 293, the narrative was clear in regards to the future of the Middleweight division. On paper, the result of UFC 293’s main event was decided as the fight was announced, it was to be a masterpiece from Israel Adesanya, who had just previously dispatched his long-term rival Alex Pereira in the second round. Upon first glance, his opponent, Sean Strickland was simply too ordinary and offered little in terms of an offensive threat to the dominant champion. It was Adesanya, who said during the pre-fight promotion “I’m gonna make this look easy cause of the work that we’re doing right now and the way that I’m working right now”.
Before the competition, it would have been difficult to deny Adesanya’s ability as a mixed martial artist. Adesanya was, and to a certain extent is the very definition of a ‘prizefighter’, since 2019, Adesanya has fought 10 times, each of which was a title fight. With few exceptions, each one of his fights has been definitive in establishing himself as an all-time great. There would’ve been no reason to doubt Adesanya’s confidence. In the wake of Conor McGregor’s absence as a championship-level fighter, the UFC had searched and found Adesanya to become his replacement as the central star figure for the promotion.
Whilst Adesanya had proved himself to be a valuable asset to the UFC, Sean Strickland’s rise to a championship-level fighter was much to the contrary. Strickland’s name was largely unheard of before his return to competition in 2020 and his abilities as a fighter had yet to be discovered. Arriving back after a two-year layoff due to a motorcycle accident, the future looked uncertain for Strickland who had also just departed from the Welterweight division to join the Middleweight Division. The Strickland who returned in 2020 had not only changed his weight class but his general demeanor towards the sport. For the first time, he was granted extensive interviews with the media, which proved to be a catalyst for his popularity.
For a company that firmly stands behind the values of free speech, Strickland tests the UFC’s policy regularly. This has had varying levels of success in granting Sean mainstream popularity as Sean’s political tirades have often distracted the mainstream audience from realizing Sean’s capabilities as a high-level fighter. It was Strickland who said, “I run my mouth so much, I think people forget I can fight”. Strickland’s training camps are almost mythical, as people allege he spars 20 rounds of 5 minutes. Nevertheless, the wildly different approaches to both fighting and promotion from Adesanya and Strickland proved to be useful in the buildup to the fight.
As the main event began, it was visible that both fighters had different mindsets. Adesanya, who has adapted well to championship fights, appeared to be relaxed. It was a markedly different aura that he exhibited from his previous fight with Alex Pereira. Strickland seemed noticeably tense for what would be his first title fight. From the outset of the fight, it was clear who wanted to leave Sydney with the Middleweight Championship. Strickland marched forward with little regard for Adesanya’s world-renowned kickboxing. Both fighters have been labelled ‘boring’ at times and for the majority of the first round, it seemed to be heading towards a slow and dull affair.
Strickland changed everything in the last 30 seconds of the first round with a perfect right hand which temporarily dropped the champion. The fighting style and game plan of Strickland seemed to be the ideal counter to Adesanya’s kick-heavy style. Throughout all 5 rounds, it was Strickland who was the aggressor who seemed to dominate Adesanya across every element of the fight. The fight would end in a unanimous decision win as all three judges scored the contest 49-46 in favour of Strickland. It was a decisive victory for the underdog in what was meant to be a dominant win for the champion and heavy favourite Adesanya.
It will be interesting to see the following steps of the UFC matchmaking team. The head promoter of the company Dana White, seemed to be adamant about a rematch between Strickland and Adesanya, and it’s easy to see why. Adesanya is a valuable commodity to the UFC, which continues to make great strides in improving the legitimacy of the sport. Whilst it may be a smart business decision, on paper, the match makes little sense. Adesanya is 3-2 in his last five and the Middleweight division needs to move on. A rematch may be interesting, but the possibility of Sean Strickland defending his championship against the number one ranked fighter Dricus Du Plessis, or the winner of Khamzat Chimaev vs. Paulo Costa could also prove to be intriguing.