It was an unsettling sight: Sean Strickland, hands down and an embarrassed expression, shuffled toward one of the UFC’s most devastating punchers. There is no “but” to follow; Alex Pereira hit the American to the knee with a signature left hook, with Strickland’s arms flailing helplessly before rising into a right cross that dropped him dangerously to the canvas.
The manner of this sinking by the Brazilian’s heavy hand evoked a mythical image: that of a lemming mindlessly wandering down a cliff. Still, Strickland’s course of action had actually been understandable up to that point – not as understandable as dealing with Pereira as most had expected of him, but reasonable in a sense. The southpaw pushed forward relentlessly and with consistent power, struggling behind a jerky jab and trying to prevent Pereira from gathering his strength.
However, Pereira took advantage of Strickland’s reflexes. With kicks and punches to the body, Pereira gradually lured Strickland’s usual saves away from his head. Then, with a subtle mock crouch, Pereira made room to land a left hook to the American’s jaw.
With that, Strickland was wiped out — as was his six-fight win streak that spanned from 2022 to 2018. In his next fight, the 32-year-old was beaten again, losing a split decision to Jared Cannonier. Just a few weeks earlier, Pereira had stopped champion Israel Adesanya at the fence to go 3-0 aggregate against his old kickboxing rival despite the latter having a huge MMA experience advantage.
Five months later, Adesanya bounced back and reclaimed the middleweight title at first sight by defeating Pereira, who made a quick turnaround with a successful light heavyweight debut in July. Meanwhile, Strickland followed the lead of Adesanya and Pereira and bounced back with a win; actually two. First, the controversial, outspoken American would replace Nassourdine Imavov in January, stepping in as a short-term replacement. Then, in July, Strickland proved many fans wrong by stopping Abus Magomedov in the second round before passionately denouncing Adesanya – whom he has regularly taunted from afar and from just yards away in recent years.
Still, the UFC seemed willing to overlook Strickland, who once expressed his desire to one day “kill” an opponent (not that they overlooked him). because of that or any kind of controversial comment, based on previous cases). “If I were to kill someone in the ring, it would make me damn happy,” he said in 2021, showing that he can use his fists – and he’s often criticized for that ability – better than with any filter.
“For example, if Uriah [Hall] If someone hits me and maybe I get a brain aneurysm and die, you’ll hear me say, “I’m fine, that’s a good death.” We’re all going to die eventually. You know, it might as well end up well. We’re all going to the same place, man. It will be either then or now. Just enjoy it.” Meanwhile, his banter against Adesanya, who is as flamboyant outside the ring as he is in, relied heavily on outdated taunts with an uncomfortable undertone. In response to a recurring slight, Adesanya has vowed to Strickland with fists , decorated with painted nails.
And the 34-year-old Nigerian and New Zealander will get his chance on Saturday when he defends his middleweight title in the main event of UFC 293 in Sydney. Strickland’s campaign against Adesanya eventually paid off, especially when Dricus Du Plessis – whom the champion bears a great grudge against – was removed from the cover photo due to injury. A clash between Adesanya and Du Plessis could yet materialize and if it does, Adesanya is likely to find harsher words for the South African whom he has already cracked down on. It’s worth noting at this point that Adesanya himself has gotten away with uncomfortable comments before, and that many fans believe he misinterpreted certain points made by Du Plessis.
In any case, Strickland comes first for him. Adesanya has been the betting favorite in all but one of the UFC fights, even in his rematch against Pereira, and it’s no different against Strickland. The Last Stylebender is expected to dissect and injure his challenger at will. Despite having less power than Pereira, Adesanya is an even more dynamic striker than the Brazilian and can unleash the kind of counterattacks that Strickland risks running straight for – if his approach to Pereira is anything to go by.
Adesanya’s fans are excited about this prospect. Many of Strickland’s fans were more excited by the verbal altercation than the looming physical altercation. Some have forgiven Strickland for certain comments because he recalls a troubling, troubling relationship with his late father. Adesanya, who lives for nights and atmospheres like Saturday in Sydney, will not allow himself to forgive Strickland a single word. The champion has always used everything possible to prepare for the title fight.
The build for UFC 293 was already threatening to get ugly. Adesanya, famous for his wonderfully destructive performances, will be hoping to make things ugly for Strickland when the cage door closes.