Though many fans continue making excuses for the former champ Adesanya, they have missed the clear lesson UFC 293's title fight had in store
The old adage "styles make fights" is one that has been repeated ad nauseum from the early days of boxing and applies to combat sports of all stripes. Yet to this day, even the most hardcore fight fans can forget this universal truth.
Sometimes, the fight world needs to be reminded in the form of a monumental upset.
Such was the case this past Saturday night as Sean Strickland, often considered a rather boring middleweight (in the cage at least) who was destined to be an "also ran" in the division, rather handily defeated a dominant champion over the course of twenty five minutes.
Though many fight fans have been quick to make excuses for Israel Adesanya's loss at UFC 293, in truth they are simply failing to face reality - Strickland's awkward, defense-first style proved to be the perfect foil to Adesanya's counter-striking game.
In making statements such as "Adesanya looked 'off' tonight" or "he didn't seem to be trying", fans and analysts are missing the entire reason Strickland found so much success, and failed to notice that Adesanya fought no differently than he has in virtually all of his other UFC performances - which is exactly why he lost.
The Real "Stylebender"
Israel Adesanya may have a penchant for fancy kicks and flashy techniques, but at heart he is a pure counter-striker through and through.
Similar to the likes of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida who preceeded him, Adesanya likes to stay at a distance against his opponents, maintaining a safe space between himself and any threats while scoring points with potshots primarily in the form of leg kicks and the occasional sniping jab or right straight.
Utilizing his movement to keep away from any returns after he scores points at range, just like most counter strikers Adesanya looks to frustrate his opponent through evasion until they eventually fall into his trap and charge at him to try to get their hands on him.
If they do, he looks to intercept them with a shot of his own, whether they bull-rush him and run themselves into a straight right hand, or load up on a sweeping shot and leave themselves exposed for a crisp check hook in return.
The only aspect of Adesanya's counter-striking that is unique is his willingness to stay and counter in the pocket, something that most counter strikers avoid; Adesanya will at times meet his opponent in the pocket not just with an intercepting shot, but will utilize his upper body movement and positioning to avoid incoming fire and counter with his own hooks in this range to great effect, as elite fighters like Robert Whittaker can attest to.
As effective as he may be on the counter, problems with Adesanya's style become most apparent when he is forced to lead.
Like many counter strikers before him, Adesanya prefers his opponents to take the initiative and come to him; the more aggressive, the better so that he can capitalize on any openings they present.
When his opponents have simply stood at range and don't attempt to close the distance that he maintains, he wishes not to provide them with the opportunities he's looking for himself and is thus extremely conservative with his own offense.
This has led to some monumentally boring rounds in his fights against opponents wary of the dangers of attacking Adesanya, as it essentially devolves into Israel moving around the outside and scoring some largely unthreatening low kicks and the occasional jab or straight while his opponent attempts to kick or jab him back, neither man wanting to commit to much offense and risk getting clipped.
Adesanya's fight against Yoel Romero was perhaps the most obvious example of this. Yoel quite literally exposed Izzy's fear of leading in the opening seconds as he simply stood there for extended periods, Adesanya confused as to how to proceed and get him to chase.
The fight was filled with embarassing shenanigans as the two outright refused to engage in anything resembling a normal fight, with Romero limiting his explosive outbursts to just a few over the entire 25-minute affair in order to prevent Adesanya from getting his timing down and countering, and Adesanya opting to avoid confrontation at all costs after he ate a heavy right hand in the opening round that put the fear of (the Soldier of) God in him.
His limited offense consisted almost entirely of light low kicks which won him a controversial decision, and although Israel didn't have another performance that was quite as poor as that one, the problem reared its head at many points in fights against Whittaker (the rematch, after Whittaker realized continuously charging at a counter striker wasn't a good plan), Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori, and Jan Blachowicz.
If Israel is forced into a fight he's ready and willing, but if you don't push the issue, he's more than content staying safe and exchanging slapping low kicks until a decision is read.
Despite constant claims from media members and fans alike, he's not a very versatile striker and like virtually all fighters, has some clear tendencies which can be exploited.
In addition to his dislike of leading, he does have a tendency to load up on his check hook when he feels his opponent is coming in, and when backed into the fence, he essentially offers up two "modes": the first is his use of upper body movement to fake his opponents into following one way or another, then circling out, and the second sees him accept his position and cover up, looking for his opponent to open up on him so he can come back with a quick and powerful counter.
The latter is what saw him defeat Alex Pereira for the first time in four attempts.
This was also the only real success outside of the grappling in their third fight (and first in MMA, when Pereira took his title) - though for my money Pereira is certainly the superior striker of the two, he does have a tendency of overusing the left hook when he has his opponent trapped or hurt, and it cost him in each of the title fights.
Many forget that in their third fight, Pereira was winning most of the striking battle despite being down 3-1 on the scorecards heading into the fifth.
At range, Pereira is not only the more powerful kicker, but he's just as fast (if not faster) with his feet as Izzy is, and with the benefit of being the man moving forward, he was chopping away at Adesanya's legs more effectively than Adesanya could in return, which is virtually Adesanya's entire game when fighting on the outside.
When Pereira came in, he was able to score heavy shots, as while Adesanya does have good defense and is certainly a great counter puncher, he does still get hit, particularly if someone is willing to throw in combinations or has the speed to match him (lest we forget how often 5'9 Kelvin Gastelum was not only closing the distance against Adesanya, but punishing him with plenty of barrages throughout their war).
The one problem with Pereira that Adesanya exploited (and even did so in their kickboxing matches) is that he tends to overuse his left hook when he has someone cornered or hurt - and it's hard to blame the man, he easily has one of the cleanest, most powerful, and most effective left hooks in combat sports history.
This got him rocked and nearly knocked out in the first round of their grudge match at UFC 281, and obviously stole the round for the then-champion. The second round saw Pereira however bounce right back and work his low kicks and more reserved combinations to turn things back into his favour, and the third saw him land some punishing body kicks that visibly bothered Adesanya before the champion employed a grapple-heavy strategy, literally the only time he has used his grappling offensively.
Of course, Pereira was the only man anywhere near the top of the division that Adesanya held a grappling advantage over, and he was forced to use it to score points on the relative MMA newcomer. It was thanks to his MMA experience he was able to pick up the third and fourth, but he tired himself out in the process.
The leg kicks Pereira continued to land also paid dividends as Adesanya's movement was compromised in the fifth, both thanks to his damaged legs and exhaustion, which set up an onslaught from the former two-division Glory kickboxing champ that Izzy simply couldn't escape from.
In their MMA rematch, Pereira immediately got off to even more success than he did in their last fight, with crippling low kicks hurting Adesanya early and by the late stages of the second round, it looked like Pereira would end the rivalry in utterly dominant fashion.
But with that confidence and the comfort he undoubtedly felt while wailing away at Adesanya once again against the cage, he looked to double up on a left hook without any regard for defense.
Just like in the first round of their previous meeting, he was rocked badly by a quick right hand counter down the middle by Adesanya; this time, a follow up shot sent him crashing to the canvas, out cold, with Adesanya finally getting on the board against his fiercest rival.
Though he recaptured his title with a stunning knockout, his flaws were still as clear as they were before, and similarly Pereira, who won their previous contests, failed to fix his defensive flaw that Adesanya had previously exposed. That failure to recognize his past mistakes ultimately cost him his title against a man he was dominating.
Enter Sean Strickland, a Throwback to Boxers of a Long Lost Era
Despite the two's epic rivalry and the fact that they ended up even at 1-1 in MMA and Pereira led the series 3-1 across all combat sports, Adesanya decided his score was "settled" and looked for a new opponent for his next title defense.
Dricus Du Plessis became the clear next contender following a shocking victory over former champ Robert Whittaker back in July, which combined with the massive heat DDP and Izzy created against each other, it seemed like a no brainer the two would be matched up next.
The UFC however badly needed a headliner for their September pay-per-view in Australia, and having last fought in April, Adesanya was ready to go.
Du Plessis on the other hand was nursing an injury and wouldn't be adequately prepared for a title fight in time for a September return, which was understandable especially for a title opportunity (Adesanya and even the UFC then slandered Du Plessis for not accepting the fight injured).
With Israel having defeated the next top contenders in line, the UFC eventually opted to give #6 ranked Sean Strickland the opportunity to fight for the middleweight championship of the world.
Virtually everyone wrote Strickland off against the likes of Adesanya, from hardcore fans that have watched the sport for decades, to seasoned fighters now serving as analysts on ESPN.
The level of confidence fans, hardcore and casual alike, had that Adesanya would defeat Strickland without much issue was seemingly on par with the vibe that preceeded Georges St-Pierre's defeat way back at UFC 69.
Strickland's monumental upset was more popularly compared to Holly Holm's brutal beatdown of Ronda Rousey given it also took place in Australia, but in that case, while Ronda was a media darling that had the vast majority of media members and casual fans (and even Joe Rogan) believing she was the second coming of Christ, many hardcore fans knew skill-wise she was seriously deficient and that Holm presented a massive problem for her.
It was one upset that many longtime fans of the sport saw coming and made a killing betting on.
In the case of GSP and now Adesanya's upset losses, even most hardcore fans had a hard time imagining the underdog succeeding, myself included.
Of course Serra's victory over GSP was far more of a "fluke", but we'll get to why Strickland's wasn't later.
Though I didn't think Adesanya would easily dispatch Strickland like most did given his style, I believed Strickland would likely be able to turn it into one of his typical dull, drawn out striking fights that largely consists of him walking down his opponent scoring jabs and little else, with Adesanya able to provide more consistent output and take home a safe decision or perhaps a late finish if Strickland got desperate and aggressive when down on the cards.
I believed in Strickland more than most, and even I figured he would ultimately lose the fight, but in hindsight, he might as well have designed his entire career around building the perfect style to defeat Israel Adesanya.
Unlike the flashy, technical strikes of Adesanya, Strickland fights ugly. Not in the sense that he's a brawler that just throws down and swings wild, or looks to get in close and maul people in the clinch, but in the sense that everything he does looks wrong.
Instead of fancy footwork, Strickland literally just walks toward his opponents, his stance far more square than most. Though he has decent head movement as well, his defense largely revolves around catching strikes with his hands and forearms, or his shoulder when he retreats, essentially using an awkward looking form of philly shell.
Despite walking his opponents down and utilizing pressure to tire them, his game is primarily defensive, as he focuses almost entirely on blocking or avoiding anything coming his way before getting right back in his opponent's space.
His offense consists almost entirely of the jab, which is definitely one of the sharpest you'll find in MMA and Sean lands it consistently.
Though it doesn't score points given he's simply using it as a light push, he also smartly uses a quick teep to the lower midsection or thighs of his opponents when they are trying to kick, which may not hurt them whatsoever, but it's enough to push them off balance and send them backward, negating their kicks and discouraging them from attempting them unless they want to keep stumbling backward.
He'll mix in a right straight from time to time, but he primarily avoids risk at all costs when he strikes, which may seem odd given his personality.
When he does have an opponent who is tired or overwhelmed by having to move backward the whole fight and missing their target, his punches are always sloppy and awkward as hell, with him regularly throwing looping arm-punches which are a direct contradiction to his sharp, stiff jab.
It may not be an orthodox style, but it is one that Strickland has developed over countless hours of sparring, something that he's become famous for as he puts far more sparring time in (and against fighters of varying ability) than virtually any other elite fighter.
Though unique, his overall style harkens back to boxers of a long gone era.
Back in the olden days, many boxers would have to fight extremely regularly in order to keep a roof over their and their family's head, and as such, making it through a fight without getting injured became just as important as earning a victory.
This meant a focus on less powerful punches to avoid breaking one's hands, instead opting for a good jab and pecking combinations or solid body work as opposed to heavy shots to the head.
It also meant a focus on defense and being economical with your stamina, especially when adequate preparation and even nutrition was often in short supply.
As such many pugilists with high fight counts opted to forego the fancy footwork of a typical outfighter and the energy it requires, instead opting for plodding, minimal-effort mobility. They would often square their stance to make it easier to see and block punches at the expense of their own hitting power, a worthwhile trade when surviving to fight another day is the primary goal.
The excessive amount of fights also served to hone a boxer's skills even without a solid coach behind them, naturally informing them of what works in a fight and what doesn't, even if the techniques they're using isn't what would be taught in a boxing how-to guide.
Strickland's love for effectively fighting every day in the gym against anyone and everyone has clearly influenced his style in much the same way.
Fighting so regularly is hard work, and becoming efficient with your gas tank is essential if you're going to be sparring so much, at least if you want to avoid getting your ass kicked. It's no surprise that Strickland is thus known for his endless gas tank, which is arguably due as much to his incredibly efficient style as it is to him being in shape, not to mention that because he is sparring so regularly, he is extremely comfortable while in the cage.
His defense-first approach allows him to constantly spar without taking much damage, and seeing so many different looks in simulated fights has clearly paid dividends in how well he's able to see shots coming and block or evade them, even if how he does it doesn't always look "right".
Though he is very clearly boxing oriented, his defense covers kicks just as well; the squared stance allows him to check kicks much more easily than most fighters, and his use of light teeps to off-balance his opponents when they attempt to kick is brilliant.
If his opponent throws a leg kick at range, he either withdraws his leg and makes his opponent miss before walking back in to close the gap, or he points his knee outward to check it. If he's closer to his opponent when they throw a kick, he instead hinges his leg inward and lets it move with the kick, effectively nullifying most or all of its impact. It's very similar to the way leg kicking legend Jose Aldo defends low kicks, as demonstrated in his defensive masterclass against Pedro Munhoz a couple years back.
Thanks to his unique pawing-style of catching punches, he's also good at catching kicks should they go to his midsection or head, as he uses his forearms well and seeks to catch body kicks to either push his opponent back or come in with a shot while they're on one leg.
What's odd about having such a defensive style is that he has mastered the use of pressure despite his regularly low output and lack of "technical" footwork.
Normally, a pressure fighter comes forward seeking to trap their opponent against the fence or into a corner and unload on them, scoring in volume and breaking down their opponent through attrition. Going forward is inherently risky and keeping the pressure on the opponent, especially if they're of similar skill level, typically means you're going to be taking damage in return.
Strickland on the other hand literally just walks forward, hands out prepared to catch incoming punches, his lead leg light to block or withdraw from kicks. Rather than smothering someone with offense, he smothers them with defense, blocking or avoiding everything that comes his way and then simply continuing his march forward, his victims made more and more uncomfortable as they are forced to get on their bike and move as they have been trained to do.
He then simply jabs them in the face, over and over, as much to annoy and fluster them as it is to score damage.
Strickland manages to shut down his opponent's offense and score just enough to earn points of his own, with the simple cumulative effect of being forced to fight on the back foot and whiffing on shots sapping his opponent's gas tank.
Should they slow down enough, then he can up his output and score some sloppy, looping punches, but for the most part, the jab is enough to make him a top ten middleweight thanks to his awkwardly impressive defense.
His lack of output can regularly get frustrating on the other hand, especially when his opponent seems flustered and tired and Sean isn't even breathing heavy yet he continues to simply peck away with his jab instead of going for a finish.
It can also be hard to score at times, as although his opponent isn't landing much (if anything) clean, they are often throwing a lot more which depending on your viewpoint may look like they're landing and scoring, while Strickland is doing very little to score on his opponent.
The incredible part of his style is that he has managed to make good fighters look bad time and time again using his strange brand of striking, from his 7-3 run as a solid but unremarkable welterweight to his current, improved version at middleweight that saw him really put things together and become a legitimate contender following a devastating motorcycle accident that kept him on the shelf for two years.
Like any style, it does have both pros and cons, and those cons were exploited with stunning ease by one Alex Pereira just over a year ago.
Strickland would face the far less experienced (as an MMA fighter at least) 5-1 Alex Pereira last July in a contendership eliminator. Pereira, given his two victories over the UFC champion Adesanya back in their kickboxing days, combined with his championship run in two weight classes fighting for Glory Kickboxing (the premier organization in that sport), was being fast tracked to a title fight against his old rival.
Strickland was viewed as the easiest fight in the top ten for Pereira, particularly given his striking-oriented style - though his ground game is highly underrated and would have certainly given him an advantage over the extremely inexperienced grappler, Sean is as stubborn as they come and most felt he would try to walk down the kickboxing legend, making him an easy matchup for the Brazilian knockout artist.
And that's exactly what he did.
While Strickland's style may work extremely well against some fighters, Pereira is effectively his worst nightmare.
Catching strikes with the arms and forearms might work well on potshots and short combos, but throwing extended combinations will almost always see the later strikes landing and finding their target, something that Pereira excels at.
Sean's lack of counter-punching ability on his back foot, in stark contrast to someone like Adesanya, makes this an especially effective avenue of attack.
And then there's the problem with Strickland's jab defense, which has always consisted of reaching out and "catching" the jab with his rear hand. This works great to block a jab, but in doing so your arm is drawn away from your chin and in no position to block a follow-up strike.
Pereira's aggressive offense wasn't even needed to dispatch Strickland, as he simply took advantage of Sean's reaction to jabs.
Throughout the fight (which lasted about half a round), Pereira threw a stinging jab which Sean, like always, reached out to catch with his rear hand. Pereira simply waited for Strickland to get into a rhythm, constantly pawing to block Pereira's jab any time Alex's left arm moved, and then he threw his nuclear left hand to sail past Sean's outstretched arm to take out "Tarzan" with ease.
Reaching out to block jabs against a fighter with arguably the best left hook in combat sports history is probably the dumbest thing someone could do - even dumber than opting to not attempt or even threaten a takedown against one of the most accomplished and powerful kickboxers to ever step foot into MMA and one that has devastating one-punch power.
He may play the part of an uneducated fool, but Strickland learned from his mistakes and also had the humility to later train with and learn from the man who demolished him, becoming friends with his former opponent in the process.
Though his next fight was a controversial split decision loss to Jared Cannonier (it was a typical Strickland performance that saw his defense hold up extremely well, but his low output made it a very close fight and ended up costing him dearly on the cards), Strickland would beat two much lesser fighters in prospects Nassourdine Imavov and Abus Magomedov before stumbling into a title fight by being in the right place at the right time.
How Strickland Slayed the Stylebender
It was easy to see why everyone wrote off Strickland's chances against Israel Adesanya at UFC 293.
Strickland had stumbled against the only two top five opponents he had faced at middleweight, and was absolutely shellacked by Alex Pereira just a year prior to his title shot.
Given Adesanya's rivalry with "Poatan" and how competitive their fights were, the two were (and still are) seen as the most accomplished and skilled strikers in the entire sport.
Strickland's awkward and often dull style just seemed so inferior to the technical ability and knockout capabilities of Adesanya, and with the relative ease Pereira had in dispatching Sean not long ago, even hardcore fans couldn't help but fall for a little bit of "MMA math".
Adesanya = Pereira, Pereira > Strickland, therefore Adesanya > Strickland.
Of course, MMA math never works - there are simply too many variables in any given fight for it to ever be consistent - but we as humans love to break things down into easy to digest logic.
And that brings us to the entire point of this article - that styles make fights.
At UFC 293, Strickland was locked in and put on the best performance of his career.
Adesanya meanwhile, did what he always does, the only difference being, this time none of what he did worked.
At range, Israel looked to land his typical low kicks, but Strickland's nearly-square stance made defending them a breeze, whether he simply withdrew his leg and let Izzy miss, turned his knee out to check them, or on the occasion he was closer to the champion, he simply hinged his leg inward and let the kick ineffectively glance off his shin.
Strickland's constant forward pressure largely eliminated the threat of heavier kicks from Adesanya, who does an admirable job of throwing kicks backing up but Strickland's defense was simply too strong to be penetrated by a single kick.
Adesanya's potshotting style was simply not enough to get past Sean's guard, and this offensive failing was compounded by his unwillingness to commit to moving forward for his offense.
Adesanya did have the challenger biting on feints regularly, but would follow through with a punch or kick from the same position instead of moving forward and properly capitalizing on the opening.
For instance, he did look for the setup Pereira used to emphatically knock out Strickland just a year ago, and did have Sean reaching to parry the jab on multiple occasions before throwing a left hook like Pereira did.
Yet for this fight, Strickland combined his parry with a simple step or sway back, moving his head back and making it harder to reach. Against a fighter like Pereira, this wouldn't be enough as he steps forward to deliver his left hook, but in Adesanya's case, he would keep his feet planted while throwing the hook, making it fall short every time and rendering the hook-off-the-jab strategy moot.
There was also one major improvement that Sean demonstrated against Izzy that he hadn't in any of his other fights, and it was the simple act of "sitting down" to deliver his right hand.
Funnily enough, there's actually video footage from Strickland's training camp where his former rival-turned-training partner Pereira showed Sean exactly what he was doing wrong with his right hand punches and how to fix it.
Undoubtedly, other trainers (like Eric Nicksick, who has done a great job at refining Strickland's skills over the last few years) have pointed out the problem with Strickland's punching form when it comes to his rear hand, but for someone like Sean, it appears it took someone he respected so much (since he brutally knocked him out) telling him to finally get him to listen.
Even in his most recent outing against Magomedov (who gassed out badly after the first round and was easily finished in the second), Strickland's "power" hand was incredibly lackluster. Despite having a great jab, his rear hand primarily provides flailing, looping shots or the occasional straight that is thrown with little-to-no weight transfer.
That is, he's simply using his arm to throw the punch, rather than turning his hips in order to properly generate power.
His squared stance also doesn't help as a more bladed stance serves to allow more hip rotation, and he would also regularly throw the punch while remaining light on his feet which sapped more power from it rather than driving the punch through the target. Against Adesanya, he finally threw his right straights properly and "sat down" on his punches.
Such a subtle difference had incredible impact, as a man not known for possessing any real power in his hands dropped and nearly finished one of the hardest fighters to finish in combat sports in the opening round (to date, the only man to stop him in over 100 fights between MMA and kickboxing was Pereira).
Ironically, the simple one-two Strickland nearly knocked out the champion with highlighted virtually the same exact problem with the left hook that Adesanya exploited to win back his title just one fight prior against Pereira.
Although Pereira's tendency is to load up on the left hook while on offense, Adesanya likes to load up on his check hook when his opponent is coming toward him and his back is to the fence.
It may not be as powerful or clean as Pereira's deadly lead hand, but Adesanya does have a great check hook that he looks to catch people coming in with - the problem is that when throwing it, your head is left unprotected, and a straight punch coming right down the middle is always going to find its target first. Strickland saw Adesanya looking to load up his left hook, and threw a crisp one-two just like Adesanya did against Pereira.
Being the durable fighter he is, Adesanya managed to survive the ensuing flurry and had his best round just over a minute later in the second; though he still wasn't able to land anything significant, he did throw a lot more and even attempted to push forward a few times, and Strickland's lack of output combined for the lone round that Adesanya picked up on the scorecards.
Ultimately it mattered not, as he was unable to mount any significant offense and ended up using a lot of energy for little return.
From the third on, Strickland turned up the output just enough while Adesanya couldn't sustain throwing so many missed shots for long, not to mention the physical toll backing up the whole fight takes.
He continued looking for openings to counter on, but Strickland stayed extremely disciplined through the entire fight, refusing to over-extend himself and throw wild shots or charge into him like Adesanya so desperately needed.
Even when Adesanya covered up against the cage, seeking to bait him in and rip a heavy counter like he did to Pereira, Strickland refused to bite and simply stayed close enough to Adesanya for him to get uncomfortable and circle off, at which point he'd fire off a jab or straight when Adesanya was no longer in any position to counter.
Israel loves to frustrate his opponents, yet in Australia Strickland gave him a taste of his own medicine. He frustrated the champion at every turn and gave him no space to work, constantly making him uncomfortable by setting him off balance with teep kicks when he tried to kick, pecking away with jabs when he stood still, and landing his rear hand when Izzy tried to circle out.
By the end of the fight, Adesanya was a defeated man, offering nothing in the dying seconds of a fight he needed a knockout in order to win as Strickland literally yelled at him and continued to walk him down.
It was a masterful performance and one that really highlighted how important styles can be in a fight, as well as how important being able to adjust your approach (or, in this case, not being able to) can be.
Strickland may not become a long-reigning champion or find himself in "GOAT" discussions, but he legitimately picked apart the second-best middleweight champion in the company's history and earned gold for himself against all odds in a true cindarella story.
Another intriguing aspect to the outcome is how many MMA media members have all of a sudden taken an interest in Sean Strickland, when for the longest time they have shunned him and spoken down about him since he can often say things that are "offensive".
One would think he would be a media darling given his story - raised in a horrific environment with an abusive father, he grew up a Neo-Nazi before he found martial arts and became a regular at a gym. Through fighting and the relationships he formed in the gym, Strickland would come to realize the beliefs he had been raised with were wrong, and would fully renounce his former ideology and encourage others to do the same.
After toiling away in the UFC since the age of 23, he suffered a gruesome motorcycle accident that he was lucky to be alive to tell the tale of, which only served to add more motivation for him to become the best fighter and man he could be.
He then was thrown into a title fight and was written off by virtually everyone, and against all odds managed to dominate the favoured champion.
Sean may have a foul mouth, but his story is certainly one of redemption and of being a perpetual underdog that kept grinding no matter what life threw at him.
It's only now that Strickland has become the champion, and media members have noticed the massive views Sean's post-fight interviews have been raking in, that certain media members are all of a sudden interested in the Strickland story.
Everyone's favourite pretentious MMA "journalist" (I'm talking of course about Ariel Helwani; sorry Luke Thomas, you're a close second) for instance banned Strickland from his show and even said Strickland is "the champion the UFC fans of today want", a veiled dig at Sean and MMA fans as a whole despite them being his source of income.
Ironically, Israel Adesanya has enjoyed media adoration for quite some time (including of course from the likes of Helwani), yet is regularly far more vulgar than Strickland is.
He literally dry-humped one of his opponents in the cage after knocking him out, yelled the "N" word about 20 times in the middle of the Octagon to try and race bait a potential opponent, mocked an opponent's kid after knocking out his father because years ago when that same child was in grade school he mocked him after his dad won, and has even posted videos of himself doing highly inappropriate things with his dog on social media in the past.
Yet Strickland is the man that's too vile to be on a podcast.
Hopefully Sean remembers which media members have snubbed him and tells them to kick rocks when they come to him now for an interview.
The Proper Middleweight GOAT, Settled Once and For All
It seems that for any title fight, casual fans, analysts, and commentators (Joe Rogan in particular) are trying to sell the current champion as being in the "Greatest Of All Time" discussions, whether it be overall or in a specific weight class.
This talk has been thrown around a lot regarding Israel Adesanya and being the best middleweight of all time, but even before the Strickland fight, it was simply ridiculous for a division that saw the talent that was Anderson Silva.
When it comes to accomplishments, well Silva had twice as many defenses, didn't lose in his athletic prime, and he finished almost all of his opponents.
They also fought, with Adesanya arguably in his prime (some stated afterward that Adesanya was still developing, yet he was 15 fights into his MMA career with 80 kickboxing matches to his credit, for a fight that took place entirely on the feet) while Anderson was 43 years old, had just been out of the cage for two years, and had a single win (a highly controversial decision at that) in his last six outings.
Yet a clearly faded "Spider" gave Adesanya everything he could handle, picking up a round from the future champ and losing a shockingly competitive decision after three rounds of action. It was a fun fight filled with exchanges of flashy techniques, but it's hard to watch it back and think that Adesanya would have come out victorious against a younger, prime Anderson.
As for styles and how they both dominated a division for a time, Adesanya is effectively an extremely limited version of Silva.
He has the counter-punching ability to rival the Spider even if his defense isn't quite as clean as Silva's was, but his lack of real versatility in his approach to striking leaves him the inferior striker, let alone mixed martial artist.
Like Israel, Anderson didn't like to lead either, but the key difference was that he could and would - and not only that, he was regularly devastating when he did so. Simply standing in front of Silva wasn't an effective option either.
Silva was also deadly in the clinch, whether it be from his famous knees or slicing elbows, whereas Adesanya is mostly defensive from clinch positions and fighters effectively get out of danger by clinching Stylebender, which was a comfort Silva's opponents were never afforded.
And then getting to the ground game, while some may argue Adesanya has better wrestling defense (and he probably does) - wrestling was always Anderson's weakest link, yet the only fighters to ever take advantage of it during his title run were elite wrestlers like NCAA Division I All-American Chael Sonnen and Olympic alternate Dan Henderson - Izzy has no offensive ground game whatsoever, whether it be ground and pound on top or submissions off his back.
Though Anderson rarely ever used it, he did have devastating ground and pound when he cared to show it, and legitimate submission skills and sweeps off his back thanks to his BJJ black belt rather than having an entirely defensive grappling game like Adesanya, which is there only to either get him back to his feet or avoid taking damage.
He was far and away the more well-rounded mixed martial artist and the more complete striker, a talent that is simply unmatched by the likes of Adesanya.
The next time someone wants to pretend Adesanya has a legitimate claim to be called the middleweight GOAT, just send them here to put them back in their place.