Sean Strickland dropped and nearly finished Israel Adesanya late in the first round of their middleweight title fight Sunday in Sydney, Australia, in the main event of UFC 293.
Strickland then went on to score one of the biggest upsets in UFC history by winning a unanimous decision over Adesanya largely by defusing Adesanya’s offense. It was a jab and a right hand and a great defense that led Strickland to the win.
Judges scored it 49-46 on all cards for Strickland. Yahoo Sports had it 49-46 for Strickland, giving Adesanya only the second round.
“You guys, you know Izzy is a bad mother f***er, you guys,” Strickland said in the cage after the decision was announced. “You don’t fight that guy with how many highlight-reel knockout? He’s beaten the majority of my friends [and] he’s beaten them pretty easily. And man, I was even down on myself at times, but I’ve got to thank the fans of Australia. You guys motivated me.”
A blistering straight right hand dropped Adesanya hard late in the first round. Strickland was on top of him immediately and firing away, but referee Marc Goddard gave Adesanya a lot of leeway, and he survived the round.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 10, 2023
But Strickland continually marched forward, kept his guard up and never allowed Adesanya to get untracked.
When the bout ended, Strickland shouted at Adesanya and then raised his arms and sprinted around the cage in celebration.
Strickland, who is often loud, crude and outrageous, was humble in victory, but he had plenty of reason to gloat. He was one of the biggest underdogs ever to win in a UFC title fight and Adesanya closed as a -675 favorite.
Truth be told, though, Adesanya was never in the fight. He wasn’t able to penetrate the Philly shell defense Strickland used and he fought most of the fight either moving side-to-side or backing up.
Strickland did the same thing all night. He walked forward, arms up to be able to pick off Adesanya’s punches and kicks. He closed the distance, not allowing the 6-foot-4 Adesanya to use his range and he relied heavily on his jab. When the occasion presented itself, he took advantage and would bring the right behind it.
Clearly, Adesanya was hurt several times and seemed to know at the final bell he’d lost a middleweight title bout for the second time in three outs. He was knocked out by Alex Pereira on Nov. 11 in New York. He avenged that win on April 8 in Miami, Florida, when he knocked out Pereira, but he had nothing Saturday in Australia.
The two biggest upsets in UFC history were Holly Holm knocking out Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight title and Matt Serra finishing Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight belt. St-Pierre avenged his loss and took the title back from Serra, but Rousey never won another fight and retired after being finished in 48 seconds by Amanda Nunes.
Whether Adesanya can come back from this remains to be seen, though he didn’t seem like himself for whatever reason on Saturday.