Sean Strickland pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history on Saturday, beating and outpointing Israel Adesanya to capture the middleweight title in Sydney.
Few fans or experts believed Strickland had a chance of dethroning Adesanya, one of mixed martial arts’ best strikers, but the challenger combined constant forward momentum with solid defense and clinical performance at UFC 293.
In the process, the controversial American – who claimed in 2021 that he would one day “kill” an opponent in the ring – beat Adesanya 49-46 on all three scorecards.
The 32-year-old Strickland dropped the Nigerian-New Zealander with a beautiful right cross late in the first round, sending Adesanya to the canvas before looking to finish. However, Strickland couldn’t quite get the knockout as Adesanya, 34, survived until the buzzer.
The champion seemed to level things up in Round 2 by staying calm, switching stances and using feints successfully – as he so often does. The “Last Stylebender” also worked the body of Strickland well, but the challenger would soon take the lead again.
In the third round, both middleweights’ output was limited until Strickland landed a one-two, left hook and stabbing jab late in the frame.
Still, the main event was on the line as Strickland’s coach Eric Nicksick told him before the championship rounds, “I don’t want to lose a boring decision.”
There was no indication that Strickland wanted to pursue wrestling, although many believed such an approach was his only chance of success. In fact, the American had a chance for a body lock in round 4 when Adesanya shot past a strike but Strickland released his opponent.
While Adesanya increased his performance in the final round, he was still a step behind Strickland, who continued to push forward and even started talking to his rival towards the end of the round.
As the final buzzer sounded, Nicksick pulled up a tearful Strickland before the American’s championship win was confirmed. Adesanya then appeared to show respect to Strickland and buried the hatchet after a heated buildup to their fight.
Much of Strickland’s post-fight in-ring interview was censored by TNT Sports.
The result meant Adesanya lost the middleweight title for the second time. He suffered a TKO loss to his old kickboxing rival Alex Pereira in November, 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, where Strickland secured his third straight win since his loss to Pereira.
UFC 293 results
Sean Strickland defeated. Israel Adesanya (V) by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)
Alexander Volkov defeated. Tai Tuivasa by second-round submission (Ezekiel choke, 4:37)
Manel Kape defeated. Felipe dos Santos by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Justin Tafa defeated. Austen Lane via first-round TKO (punches, 1:22)
Tyson Pedro defeated Anton Turkalj by first-round knockout (punches, 2:12)
Carlos Ulberg defeated. Da Un Jung via submission in the third round (rear naked choke, 4:49)
Chepe Mariscal defeated. Jack Jenkins via second-round TKO (elbow injury, 3:19)
Jamie Mullarkey defeated. John Makdessi by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Nasrat Haqparast defeated. Landon Quinones by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Charlie Radtke defeated. Blood Diamond by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Gabriel Miranda defeated. Shane Young via submission in the first round (rear naked choke, 0:59)
Kevin Jousset defeated. Kiefer Crosbie via submission in the first round (rear naked choke, 4:49)