UFC 293 Recap: Sean Strickland’s Stunning Upset Adds to a Surprising UFC Trend

The conclusion of UFC 293 was nothing short of a shocker as Sean Strickland pulled off a major upset by dethroning Israel Adesanya with a unanimous decision. Before that, the main card delivered some exceptional performances, setting Alexander Volkanovski and Manel Kape on intriguing paths. Brett Okamoto, Mark Raimondi, and Jeff Wagenheim react to the night’s biggest moments.

Israel Adesanya had everything lined up for him. He was fighting in Sydney, just a quick hop across the Tasman Sea from his home in New Zealand. Since winning the UFC Middleweight Championship in 2019, this was Adesanya’s first defense of the title. Back then, he had put on a spectacular show with a choreographed walkout in a caged enclosure and had been back to entertain fans in his own corner of the world.

But Sean Strickland had other plans for that Saturday night at UFC 293. He defeated Adesanya in a five-round battle and secured a clear unanimous decision victory, becoming the 185-pound champion in a true upset.

Kudos Bank Arena had imagined Adesanya’s showmanship as the headliner of this event. Strickland was a Plan B opponent, booked only when Dricus Du Plessis, who had become a top contender by defeating former champion Robert Whittaker just two months earlier, couldn’t make it on this date. Strickland was relatively low in the middleweight rankings and only had a two-fight win streak on his record. No victories over anyone in the top five of the American bio-data.

But Strickland was ready and eager, and as a 5-1 underdog, he was the perfect foil for Adesanya. Strickland is a fighter who moves forward without fear of getting hit, and Adesanya is known for his striking.

However, on this night, it was Adesanya who took the hits. The worst of it came late in the first round when Strickland landed a straight right that dropped the champion and then leaped on him with ground and pound. Adesanya survived until the horn sounded, and he even won the second round on the scorecard, but the champion took more punishment than he ever had in the rest of the fight.

Adesanya connected on just 34% of his strikes, and it wasn’t as if Strickland was hard to find. He simply kept moving forward, and the champion couldn’t stop the onslaught.

How far did Strickland walk in those 25 minutes of battle? It’s hard to estimate, but one thing is for sure: he never took a step back. He brought Adesanya down, and as the final seconds ticked away in Round 5, Strickland felt that moment and began talking to the champion as he took him down. When the horn sounded, Strickland raised his arms in victory.

After the scores were read – all three judges had it 49-46 – Strickland broke down in tears. He covered his face as the championship belt was wrapped around his waist. It was a moment.

And yet, Strickland presents a new challenge for the UFC. Not only is he far removed from the days when Demetrious Johnson defended the men’s flyweight title 11 times, Anderson Silva shattered the dreams of 10 straight middleweight contenders, and Georges St-Pierre reigned over nine straight welterweight challengers, Strickland has stirred controversy with homophobic, misogynistic, and sexist comments. To date, Dana White has brushed off those comments, but Strickland’s victory makes it harder for the UFC to continue doing so.

The days of the UFC championship run are rare these days. Three weeks ago, at UFC 292, Sean O’Malley took the men’s bantamweight title from Aljamain Sterling. UFC 291 was a rare pay-per-view event with no title bout. (The BMF belt was on the line, but what championship is that a symbol of?) In the start of July, at UFC 290, Alexandre Pantoja defeated Brandon Moreno in the men’s flyweight division. Amanda Nunes successfully defended her bantamweight title at UFC 289 but then retired, leaving two women’s championships vacant. Sterling defended his belt at UFC 288 but his time as champion was soon to be over. And in April, at UFC 287, another championship changed hands as Adesanya claimed the title – which will soon be taken from him again.

The UFC championship run is no longer a marathon but rather a sprint. Belts have changed hands or champions have left behind five of the past seven UFC pay-per-view events. Three champions hold a title defense streak of zero. The top spot in three of the company’s 12 weight classes is vacant.

Now, the middleweight division has a traveling champion. Strickland was 2-2 in his last four fights leading up to this night at UFC 293. But his accomplishment is undeniable. He traveled the globe to Adesanya’s home turf and won the belt fair and square. And Strickland is the one who has claimed UFC gold from one of the toughest fighters in the division yet.

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