UFC 293 provided us with the biggest shock of the year as Sean Strickland out-pointed the (now) former middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya to capture the 185lbs strap.
Across 25 minutes, Adesanya seemed to be fresh out of ideas after his initial game plan didn’t work. After being dropped and hurt in the first round, The Last Style bender never appeared to be in the fight. A good second round saw Izzy seemingly get into his rhythm, however, he couldn’t maintain it.
What was interesting is just how poor Adesanya looked. We’ve seen him lose two fights throughout his career thus far, one up at light heavyweight against then-champion, Jan Blachowicz and one more recently against Alex Pereira. Against Blachowicz, Adesanya was largely out grappled by the far bigger man. Against Pereira, he was caught in a fight he was seemingly winning and also came back to avenge that loss by knockout.
Here, at UFC 293, he was beaten at his own game, the stand-up game.
We often discuss the accuracy of the former Glory kickboxing star, however, he was far down on his ‘usual’ numbers. Since his interim title fight with Kelvin Gastelum back in 2019, Adesanya has only had an accuracy as low as he did at UFC 293 once (in fights that have gone four rounds or more), against Yoel Romero (and we all know how that fight played out).
Adesanya’s Accuracy… or Lack of
In Sydney, Adesanya was able to land just 94 of his 271 strikes thrown at an accuracy of just 34%. For context, Strickland landed 137 of 259 with an accuracy of 52%. Strickland threw less but landed more.
We have to look into why this was. There are five potential reasons. These are as follows:
A) An undisclosed injury (which is unlikely)
B) He didn’t take Sean Strickland seriously
C) He was afraid of the power of Sean Strickland after being knocked down in the opening round
D) He struggled with the length and reach of the new champion
E) He struggled to figure out a way to punish Strickland’s ‘Philly shell’ defensive style
Since the fight itself, we haven’t heard anything about Adesanya being injured, so we can immediately rule that out.
Did the former champion take Strickland seriously? It appears that maybe he didn’t. Aside from his initial plan, (to swing hooks when Strickland gets into range, looking to counter him like Pereira did and punish the leg when he’s out of range), he didn’t seem to have a plan B. Prior to the fight, many didn’t believe that Strickland earned the fight, coming off just two wins against two guys who aren’t in the top 10. Adesanya mentally wanted Dricus du Plessis, however, this didn’t materialise and there’s a potential that he didn’t prepare as solidly for Strickland as he would have for DDP.
There’s also a good chance that he was weary of the power of his challenger after the first round.
Sean Strickland’s knock-down against Izzy at the end of the 1st round with a right cross 🥊
I was devastated when I saw this, thankfully Izzy recovered and got defeated by points rather than a brutal TKO 🙏
I know he’ll be back 💥💯
Congratz Strickland, what a man… … pic.twitter.com/u719NqmRHW
— Slip N’Roll (@SlipnRoll) September 10, 2023
The knockdown was undoubtedly a shock to both Adesanya and the fans alike. No one expected Strickland to get the knockdown on one of the most elite strikers on the roster. It marked just the second knockdown of Strickland’s middleweight career, proving that he’s not the hardest hitter and the first time Adesnaya had been knocked down in his UFC career.
The slick 1-2 simple combo worked so well because he bought Adesanya’s hands down with the initial jab and landed the straight right as Adesnaya was looking to counter with a hook.
Only Adesnaya knows how much this hurt him, however, he was, as of the third round, constantly on the back foot, looking to counter.
Further, after 80 kickboxing fights, six boxing matches and 26 MMA fights (before the UFC 293 fight), Adesanya shouldn’t have struggled with the length and reach of Strickland. Not only this, but he had a height and reach advantage over the American.
The jab of Strickland couldn’t miss, however, meaning that he could constantly get in range of Izzy, sting him with the shot and get out. Strickland didn’t look as if he’d had a shot landed on him, whereas Adesanya was certainly bruised up after the fight.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 10: (R-L) Sean Strickland punches Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
The Philly Shell
The below image explains the Philly shell defensive style in its simplest form.
Sean Strickland’s 🐐 stance explained. pic.twitter.com/kfXK0HMYdx
— Left Hook Club (@lefthookclub) September 8, 2023
This is the defensive posture that Strickland constantly used against Adesnaya. It clearly worked and it caused Adesnaya a whole host of problems. As we suggested previously, Adesnaya’s accuracy was far lower than usual. Just 22 of Adesanya’s attempted 154 head strikes landed across the 25 minutes, an accuracy of just 14.29%.
For context, in his last fight to go 25 minutes, Adesanya landed 60 head strikes and even in his rematch with Alex Pereira, a fight that lasted just 9:21, Adesanya landed 18 strikes to the head. Strickland was able to roll Adesanya’s attempts off his shoulders, protecting his chin in the process and being extremely elusive.
As we spoke about on the MMASucka Podcast, Strickland used a simple one-two extremely well. Not only this, but he used the Philly shell to great effect too. He utterly outclassed one of the best strikers in the company with a very simple game plan. Could it happen again in a potential rematch? We’ll have to wait and see!