In a shocking turn of events, Sean Strickland pulled off an incredible upset by defeating the heavy pre-fight favorite, Israel Adesanya, to claim the middleweight title at UFC 293, held in Sydney, Australia.
Sean Strickland, a 32-year-old American fighter, displayed relentless determination throughout the five-round bout, outstriking the Nigeria-born New Zealander, Adesanya, to secure a unanimous decision victory.
Strickland's path to this title opportunity was unorthodox, as he was thrust into the spotlight due to an injury sidelining fellow top contender Dricus du Plessis.
Expressing his astonishment and joy, Strickland exclaimed, "Am I dreaming, am I going to wake up? Somebody hit me. 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."
Originally, Adesanya, 34, was slated to face Du Plessis after their confrontation following Adesanya's victory over Robert Whittaker in July. Unfortunately, Du Plessis's injury forced the UFC to explore other options. With Adesanya already having bested fellow top contenders Jared Cannonier and Marvin Vettori, the title opportunity fell to Strickland, who was ranked fifth in the middleweight division.
Stepping into the octagon with a two-win streak, Strickland faced Adesanya, who was making his first title defense in his second reign as champion after a dominant win over his long-term rival, Alex Pereira, in April. Adesanya, appearing confident in his 11th title fight, briskly walked to the cage.
However, the fight's initial moments were uneventful until Strickland changed the narrative with a clean right-hand punch, knocking Adesanya down and igniting the contest. The champion managed to survive the round, but Strickland had set a tone that few of Adesanya's previous challengers had managed.
In the second round, Adesanya began to find his rhythm, consistently targeting Strickland with leg kicks. Nonetheless, Strickland remained the aggressor throughout the bout, skillfully evading the majority of Adesanya's counterattacks.
Midway through the fight, Strickland's corner sensed a potential victory and urged their fighter to step up the pace, emphasizing that they hadn't come all this way to lose a decision. Strickland heeded their advice, maintaining his forward pressure, using his jab effectively, and keeping Adesanya on the defensive.
As the fight concluded, Strickland raised his arms in celebration, confident in his victory, while Adesanya, looking dejected, retreated to his corner. When the judges declared Strickland the winner, Adesanya graciously embraced the emotional American and raised his hand in victory.
This remarkable victory marked Sean Strickland's first UFC title win in his inaugural championship bout, adding to his impressive career record of 28 wins in 33 fights. The unexpected outcome at UFC 293 will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most significant upsets in recent MMA history.
Official UFC 293 Result: Sean Strickland def. Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)