Five years after he was involved in a life-threatening motorcycle accident, five years after doctors told him he’d never be able to fight again, Sean Strickland had the UFC middleweight championship belt wrapped around his waist.
“What is this thing?” he asked multiple times, beaming, after UFC president Dana White put the belt on him in the Octagon after he scored a clear but stunning unanimous decision victory over Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 293 on Sunday in Sydney, Australia.
Adesanya closed as a -675 favorite but still went down to defeat in a bout that was never in doubt. Strickland nearly finished the fight at the end of the first round after dropping Adesanya with one of the best straight right hands you’ll ever see. It landed squarely on the chin and dropped Adesanya hard. Referee Marc Goddard could easily have stopped it, but he gave the legendary champion plenty of leeway and the fight continued to the second round.
Strickland only got stronger as the fight went on and took Adesanya completely out of his plan. Strickland moved forward relentlessly, while Adesanya seemed stiff and slow. Adesanya is one of the sport’s great counter strikers and has an almost magical way of drawing his opponent out and making him overcommit. At that point is when Adesanya usually is at his best.
He never really did much of anything, though, and his coach, Eugene Bareman, credited Strickland and a brilliant game plan.
“What Sean did was he made Israel very hesitant and that’s all credit to him,” Bareman said. “He bit down and threw every time Israel threw. He countered no matter what. Was there going to be a counter when Israel came in 50 percent of the time, 65 percent of the time? One hundred percent of the time, Sean was going to bite down and counter.