Middleweight contender Sean Strickland might be able to beat Israel Adesanya at UFC 293


UFC 293 is heading Down Under. The pay-per-view will be held at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney and the huge main event features reigning champ Israel “The Last Sylebender” Adesanya versus surging contender Sean “Tarzan” Strickland competing for the 185-pound crown.

Strickland has stepped in for rising star Dricus Du Plessis, Adesanya’s original opponent, who was shaping up to be a new rival for the champ. Du Plessis has unfortunately been injured, giving the No. 5-ranked Strickland his first-ever shot at the title. 

“Tarzan’s” fight style is characterized by a sharp, quick jab paired with formidable cardio, a relentless pace, ability to absorb hits and a gameness to move forward. It’s a signature performance that’s made him a very entertaining fighter to watch for fight fans, just as much as his trash talk and snarky personality online have made him. 

As the underdog in what analysts are calling a lopsided bout in favor of the champ, how might he beat the elite level kickboxer Adesanya? It too premature to just write off someone in the top five of the division.  Here’s what Strickland needs to do to come away as the new middleweight kingpin of the UFC.     


IN an interview with UFC commentator Daniel Cormier, Strickland compared his upcoming fight versus the middleweight champ to how Bisping versus Silva played out in 2016.

Bisping won that fight by a well-called unanimous decision. While it’s an interesting match comparison with arguably a few parallels, the physicality and range of the two fights here are huge. Adesanya stands at 6-foot-4 with with an 80-inch reach, against the 6-foot-1 Strickland with a 76-inch reach, making it an almost astronomical distance in MMA math.

Getting to his preferred boxing range would be best for Strickland. To do that he must use feints and hopefully mix in some takedown attempts, or at least level changes. Easier said than done when using fakes to overload the nervous system of such a veteran striker, but standing outside the pocket, where Adesanya can pick shots and kicks, is the worse option.

The champ also has an incredible clinch game. Strickland must hand fight plenty to avoid the Thai clinch or risk those sharp counter knees.

Just like the Bisping vs Silva comparison, Strickland’s best bet is to keep his jabs crisp and plentiful, yet deploy them with correct timing. This way, he can get inside the pocket and he will still be in a position to be offensive and bridge the distance.

Strickland has confessed in interviews that he may not hit hard but he does make up for it in volume, his evolving striking indeed proving effective in his last few matches and netted him a 41 percent career win ratio by knockout or TKO.


STRICKLAND does his best work when someone’s exhausted and pinned against the Octagon where Adesanya’s footwork will count for less.

We’ve seen how Strickland’s signature fighting mindset of brawl and pressure, betting your overall toughness that the other guy will wilt before you so you can cave their head in, can play out. The best result in his volume striking and pressure pace was against Magomedov and Nassourdine Imavov. The worst result was his performance versus former middleweight champ Alex Pereira, an elite and powerful kickboxer who kept him at distance, riddling him with roundhouses and low kicks.   

Cutting off the space will let Strickland implement his cardio, too. He must however take care not to string together long punch combos. By blitzing with his boxing in a maximum of three or four hit combos, there’s a higher percentage that Strickland can win a decision. 


STRICKLAND can be tight and technical when he wants to be, yet people watch him because his inner savage sometimes tends to overwhelm the technician. It’s something that Strickland has struggled with, often even seeming to ignore his coaches’ advice, as in the start of the Pereira fight and between rounds in the Magomedov bout, raring to just get back and bang it out. 

Making it a technical stand-up fight with an elite striker like Adesanya would simply be a bad idea, at worst a death sentence. Strickland’s bout versus Pereira, where he played patty cake parrying at kicking range, hoping a kickboxer of that caliber will drop his guard, was a recipe for getting walloped by a nuclear left.

Strickland’s style is comparable to a tank, his awkward boxing type guard modified with MMA’s neutral stance has evolved into a distinct advantage. Bringing that “bang ‘em up” energy, of someone like old UFC fighter Tank Abbot, who simply wants to enact violence would be a good bet.

If he wades in smartly and catches the champ inattentive, being just an agent of chaos with unpredictability will definitely look good to the judges and win rounds. 


ADESANYA and Strickland could not be more different fighters. If Strickland can indeed effectively feint his way into boxing range, keep his hands away from his chest and nearer his face, pin the champ against the cage to unleash blitzes, and defend against the higher speed and technicality, then Strickland’s cardio can be used to great effect.

It’s much like the Diaz Brothers fight, their superior gas tank wearing down opponents. Strickland’s been in that territory before and wilted the likes of Ryan Garcia. Better champions than Adesanya have overlooked underdogs and fired all cylinders looking for a KO.

Strickland must make the champ mismanage his energy, make him exhausted early, then flow with his strikes, dragging a hopefully exhausted Adesanya into the fourth and fifth rounds.


CHALLENGING Adesanya to an MMA fight would be the smarter chance to win. But I doubt Stickland will add much offensive wrestling or grappling, nothing that’s not already his game. He’s just not that kind of fighter who absorbs multiple disciplines quickly.

His flat footed, arguably narrow stance, plus the way he walks forward would be just irresistible if he were fighting an explosive wrestler. But with Adesanya being the striker he is, the challenger employing a takedown feint or two should give the champ more to worry about.

To his credit, Strickland does have decent knees in the clinch and uses low kicks when he remembers them. We’ve seen this in his wins against Krzysztof Jotko and Uriah Hall.

He’s also shown he can take people down with a body lock trip. Rudimentary, yet effective. In addition, Strickland does have a decent ground and pound game. Perhaps pulling off a decent rear naked choke, as in the Bubba McDaniel bout, might not be completely out of the question?  

With all this, the path to winning the middleweight crown and coming away the new champ could be within reach for Tarzan. UFC 293 is a hell of a fight card and fans who really don’t like the grappling aspect of MMA are highly advised to watch this main event for all the potential fireworks it contains.

UFC 293 PREDICTION: Sean Strickland to win by Split Decision

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