Sean Strickland upset heavy pre-fight favourite Israel Adesanya to win the middleweight title at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia. American Strickland, 32, pressed forward relentlessly over five rounds, out-striking Nigeria-born New Zealander Adesanya to win a unanimous decision.
Strickland was only handed the title opportunity after an injury to fellow top contender Dricus du Plessis. “Am I dreaming, am I going to wake up? Somebody hit me,” said Strickland. “Never in a million years did I think I would be here. I don’t cry much but I’m trying to keep [myself] together right now.” Adesanya, 34, was originally set to face Du Plessis after facing off with the South African following his win over Robert Whittaker in July. That fight did not come to fruition after Du Plessis was injured, forcing the UFC to consider other options.
With Adesanya already having beaten fellow top contenders Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori, the opportunity was handed to Strickland, who is fifth in the middleweight rankings. Strickland came into the bout on the back of two wins, while Adesanya was making the first defence of his second title reign after emphatically beating long-term rival Alex Pereira in April. Adesanya, competing in his 11th title fight, oozed confidence as he walked briskly to the octagon. But, following an uneventful start to the first round, the odds started to even out as Strickland dropped Adesanya with a clean right hand, sparking the contest into life.
The champion recovered to reach the end of the round, but in knocking down Adesanya, Strickland laid down a marker that many of Adesanya’s former opponents had failed to set.