In the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Australia’s largest city in six years, America’s Sean Strickland upset New Zealander’s Israel Adesanya, who is of Nigerian descent, to win the middleweight title by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC 293.
The three judges scored the fight 49-46 for Strickland (28-5), 32, who made controversy before the fight by making sexist and misogynistic remarks at a press conference promoting the fight.
“Am I dreaming? Am I going to wake up? Someone hit me … I don’t cry much but I’m trying to keep it together right now,” an emotional Strickland said immediately after the bout. “I give up so many brain cells to the MMA gods … I thought I’d be walking away a little bloody, a little broken up. I’m a little shocked that didn’t happen.”
Adesanya (24-3) was the overwhelming favorite to defeat his controversial American opponent and keep the title he had defeated Alex Pereira for at UFC 281, back in April at Qudos Bank Arena.
However, the 32-year-old Strickland’s counterattacking approach proved ruthlessly effective, and throughout the bout, the American landed the more telling blows while Adesanya struggled to injure Strickland.
After a cautious beginning from both combatants, during which Adesanya probed Strickland’s unconventional fighting technique, it was the American who landed the first telling blow, a crisp straight right that knocked Adesanya to the ground. Strickland easily closed the first round in the American’s favor by closing up on the 34-year-old New Zealander’s back with a barrage of punches.
Adesanya was more aggressive and found his range with his kicks and right-hand shots, but he still left himself vulnerable to attacks to the body and head from Strickland in the second and third rounds.
Adesanya retreated further throughout the latter rounds as the New Zealander tried to make an impression on the American’s defense. When Strickland saw his chance to attack the champion, he threw a barrage of punches and kicks that helped secure the victory and the middleweight championship.
“You don’t fight that guy with that many highlight-reel knockouts,” Strickland said about Adesanya. “The majority of my friends, he’s beat pretty easily. I was even kind of doubting myself at times.”
“But I’ve got to say, the fans in Australia, you guys motivated me. When I’m walking in here and I heard you guys yelling. In that fourth round, I heard you guys yelling. It fuelled me.”
The UFC fight made headlines in the New South Wales state legislature, where the top elected official was compelled to defend his state’s $10 million contribution to ensure the UFC event returned to Sydney, for the first time since 2017, after Strickland made remarks about putting women back in the kitchen that were sexist and misogynistic.
Due to the injury of Adesanya’s South African opponent Dricus du Plessis, Strickland had accepted to fight on short notice. After defeating Abus Magomedov and Nassourdine Imavov, the fifth-ranked American earned his chance at the championship.
Sydney-born 30-year-old Tai Tuivasa was defeated by heavyweight Alexander Volkov (37-10) via submission in the second round in the co-main event.
Despite having a front leg injury that Tuivasa had targeted earlier in the round, the 34-year-old Russian dominated the fight, landing punch after hit on the Australian before putting him in a choke grip that caused Tuivasa to submit.
“[He took] so many punches and he was still on his legs. This guy is very tough,” said 34-year-old Volkov, who won by submission for the first time since 2016.
Before New Zealander Justin Tafa knocked out American Austen Lane in a heavyweight fight and Manel Kape defeated Felipe dos Santos by unanimous decision in a fun flyweight contest, Australian Tyson Pedro opened the main program by stopping Sweden’s Anton Turkalj in the first round.