Polarising After a gruelling fight in Sydney in the early hours of today, Sean Strickland defeated champion Israel Adesanya and claimed the UFC middleweight title with a flurry of powerful punches.
In the main event of UFC 293, American Strickland defeated hot favourite Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) in a five-round slugfest.
Strickland landed several stinging punches to the head at the sold-out Qudos Bank Arena, keeping Adesanya on the back foot the entire time.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be here,” Strickland said after handing New Zealander Adesanya his third defeat in 27 fights.
“I expected to walk away a little broken up.” I’m surprised that didn’t happen.
“This is the first time I’ve been at a loss for words.”
Strickland, who sparked outrage ahead of the fight with misogynistic comments about reintroducing women into the kitchen, agreed to fight on short notice after Adesanya’s South African opponent Dricus du Plessis was unable to compete.
Strickland, ranked fifth, earned his title shot with victories over Abus Magomedov and Nassourdine Imavov.
In the first UFC fight held in Sydney since 2017, both fighters initially felt each other out in a frenetic atmosphere.
In order to pull off a major upset, the 32-year-old attempted to play to his strengths of wrestling and close-range striking.
He made his move late in the first round, knocking out Adesanya with a powerful right-hand punch.
After surviving Strickland’s barrage, Adesanya regrouped in the second round and used his trademark kicks to devastating effect.
In round three, Adesanya threatened to take control before Strickland landed a left hook to end the fight.
Strickland (28-5) was unyielding and trash-talked a bloodied Adesanya, a former kickboxer regarded as the marquee fighter in MMA, in the waning seconds with a shock title secured.
On the main card, Alexander Volkov, a two-metre (six foot seven inch) tall Russian, silenced the raucous fans by defeating Australian Tai Tuivasa by submission in the heavyweight division.
With a five-inch height advantage, Russian Volkov submitted Tuivasa in the second round with an Ezekiel choke, pinning his opponent to the ground with his right arm around the neck.
“(He took) so many punches and he was still on his legs, this guy is very tough,” Volkov, 34, said after winning by submission for the first time since 2016.
In the other heavyweight bout, Justin Tafa of New Zealand knocked out American Austen Lane in the first round with a left hook flush on the chin.
It was the second UFC event in Australia this year, following the victory of lightweight champion Islam Makhachev over local Alexander Volkanovski in February at Perth Arena.