Australia becomes the epicenter of MMA action this weekend as UFC 293 descends upon Sydney. The fight show will be headlined by a spectacular main event featuring the return of the middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, who will put his title on the line against the relentless challenger, No. 5-seeded Sean Strickland. Scroll down and find out more about the fighters and who’s the favorite to win.
The Rise and Resurgence of Israel Adesanya
The Nigerian fighter (24-2-0) has enjoyed a remarkable spell in the UFC’s Middleweight division. His story is one of redemption and dominance. After briefly losing the title to Alex Pereira last November, Adesanya stormed back with a sensational KO victory over his Brazilian arch-rival, recapturing the Middleweight strap just five months later. To those who haven’t seen it, let us walk you through shortly. In April, Israel Adesanya did something that very few expected. In the highly-anticipated rematch for the middleweight title against Alex Pereira, Adesanya found himself cornered against the fence, enduring a barrage of leg kicks from his longtime rival. However, when the chips were down, Adesanya delivered a stunning right-hand counter that sent Pereira crashing to the canvas. The follow-up strike sealed the deal, and “The Last Stylebender” retrieved his belt and once again ascended to the top of the UFC Middleweight division.
Adesanya’s remarkable journey has seen him compete in nine consecutive UFC title fights, demonstrating his elite-level skills and uncanny ability to read and adapt to different opponents. Apart from his most recent victory over Pereira, he boasts wins over several other well-renowned fighters, including Robert Whittaker (twice), Yoel Romero, Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori, and the legendary Anderson Silva. With seven UFC Middleweight title wins to his name, it’s no surprise that Adesanya is widely regarded as one of the best middleweights in MMA history.
The 34-year-old has been spoiling MMA enthusiasts with regular appearances in the octagon. With only two mishaps in his 26 bouts, Adesanya’s supporters surely can’t complain.
The Unlikely Contender: Sean Strickland
On the opposite side of the octagon stands Sean Strickland (27-5-0), a fighter who’s earned his shot at UFC gold through sheer tenacity and unwavering determination. Strickland’s journey to this title opportunity is unconventional. The American has posted a 7-2 record since returning from a two-year layoff after a motorcycle accident in 2018. His willingness to take short notice and low-reward assignments, which he did already twice this year, sets him apart from other fighters.
Strickland’s pressure-based attack is his trademark. This contrasting style makes the matchup intriguing, as it will force Adesanya to engage at all times. While the 32-year-old’s ability to maintain this approach for a full 25 minutes remains to be seen, we think the fight might turn out to be more competitive and thrilling than some anticipate.
The Battle of Styles
Stylistically, this matchup presents an exciting contrast. Adesanya, known for his calculated approach, will face Strickland’s relentless pressure-based attack. As mentioned, Strickland is known for his toughness, evident endurance, and ability to push the pace. In his recent 2nd-round victory over Abus Magomedov, he secured his title shot with a decisive KO, showcasing his determination to challenge the very best.
However, facing Israel Adesanya is an entirely different proposition. Adesanya’s striking prowess, honed through years of kickboxing, sets him apart. He has accumulated an impressive 16 knockout victories in his MMA career, compared to Strickland’s 11. Meanwhile, the American has gone through all rounds of a fight more often than his rival – 15 times, winning 12 of them, compared to 8 out of 9 by Izzy.
When it comes to grappling and submissions, none of the two have the sweet tooth to take it down to the canvas. For instance, Adesanya hasn’t won a fight (nor lost) through submission. Strickland, on the contrary, has registered 4 such victories while losing none. The rarity of this manner tells us this title fight will most likely end via KO or decision. But who knows, maybe Strickland might try exactly that (takedowns), given the height and reach advantage of his rival. For context, Adesanya stands almost 8 centimeters taller with a 10+ centimeter reach advantage. Given that the Nigerian is known for frequently using his legs to deal damage and maintain a safe distance, Strickland might want to counter it with takedowns and fighting in the pocket.
What are the odds?
Unsurprisingly, Adesanya enters this bout as a massive favorite. Of course, it’s easy to see why. He has been involved in 9 consecutive UFC title fights (middleweight and light heavyweight combined). He’s been able to get the sweetest imaginable revenge in his rematch against Pereira, who until that day was considered to be Adesanya’s personal kryptonite. On top of that, he has a perfect 5-0 in MMA (and 2-0 in kickboxing) record as a professional when fighting on Australian soil.
Upsets, however, have become increasingly “popular” within the UFC over the past two years. Particularly in championship fights! Kamaru Usman, Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko, and Adesanya himself saw their extended title reigns abruptly come to an end at some point.
Strickland has gone the five-round championship distance four times in his last six fights, which can either be seen as a positive because of the experience accumulated or a negative in the sense that he’s not much of a finishing threat when he steps up in class. However, if we’ve learned one thing during these years, it is that anything is possible in the world of martial arts.
OlyBet sportsbook favors Adesanya at the odds of 1.15, while Strickland is rated at 5.80 – an unusually big difference between two fighters in a title bout. Should Adesanya continue his reign in the division and further cement his legacy as the greatest middleweight of all time, or will we witness an absolutely shocking upset, will be determined early this Sunday. One question remains open, though… Are we really ready to live in a world where Strickland is a UFC champ?