Who could have predicted that Sean Strickland would go from being a massive underdog in enemy territory to winning the night, winning over the home crowd, and winning the UFC middleweight championship that he wasn’t even supposed to be competing for in the first place?
Guess that’s the order of the day right now, after the Detroit Lions upset the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Plus, Deion Sanders has led a Colorado team that won one game last year to a 2-0 start that includes a win over one of the teams that played in last season’s championship.
Maybe Eric Nicksick just became MMA’s Coach Prime. Or PRIME™ if you prefer.
There’s plenty that can be said about Sean Strickland, a lot of which isn’t good depending on where you’d get your cable news from if anyone still watched cable. The man has admitted to being a neo-Nazi growing up, to being raised in an abusive household and harboring a lot of hate for the world around him.
He’s garnered criticism for the things that he has said, things that are both racist and sexist, and has shown no qualms about puffing his chest and finding ways to cause trouble if necessary to defend himself.
He first garnered (negative) attention two years ago when he said he wanted to kill someone inside the cage. Not much has changed since then considering he said he wanted to kill someone just a couple of days ago, and again on the post-fight press conference. No wonder Jack Hermansson referred to him as a loose cannon. That almost seems to be putting it mildly.
Sean Strickland is a complicated person but a quality fighter
Sean Strickland’s the type who found fighting as an outlet for his adolescent rage and, since learning how to channel it, he’s been a very successful mixed martial artist, first in King of the Cage, where he was their middleweight champion for almost two years before moving to the UFC. He then went on to build up a nice record at both welterweight and middleweight.
Up to this point, though, Sean Strickland hasn’t been considered much beyond being a wild personality and a solid hand inside the cage. He’s won most of his fights, but losses to Alex Pereira and Jared Cannonier put him far back in the pecking order when it came to contendership.
It’s not that he’d never vie for a title, especially at the rate Israel Adesanya has cleared out the division, but it wasn’t an opportunity that should have been his right now.
But opportunity presented itself in the most bizarre of ways when, after selling out Sydney’s Qudos Arena for UFC 293, the event still didn’t have an official main event a month out. It had been expected since tickets went on sale that Izzy would be in the main event but against who proved worrisome when circumstance and/or bad planning and/or bad decision making (depending on whose narrative you’re buying into) resulted in the obvious choice for opponent, Dricus du Plessis, being unavailable.
After Israel spent some time lashing out about it, the call was made to the American and, after some initial setbacks regarding pay were seemingly straightened out (hopefully in Sean Strickland’s favor), the fight was made official.
Cancel Culture Dundee was heading down under.
Australia made Sean Strickland a star
Sean Strickland made the most of his trip, going from punching guys at the beach to giving out free tickets to fans. He showed his girlfriend the sites when, three months ago, he was saying a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Regardless of all that, he showed himself to be ever the showman and, while other fighters spent the night referring to the home crowd using the F-word (and I don’t mean “filthy”), Strickland showed nothing but respect to the Australian crowd (well, except maybe for the guy he punched).
He then gained the support of the crowd over the course of 25 minutes, in which he blasted Adesanya with a right hand in the first round and stayed in his face the rest of the way. Adesanya thrives off being able to counter his opponent’s strikes and, while Strickland was willing to engage at times, he was also smart about when and how often he threw.
“Optics” was the word of the day and it was obvious to everyone why they mattered. Score another win for Coach PRIME™.
That’s not to say either the fight or the outcome were controversial. Quite the contrary, as Strickland had the perfect kind of win, going all 5 five rounds and winning a unanimous decision that absolutely felt earned. It was kinda like what might have happened if Chael Sonnen hadn’t choked in the last minute of the first Anderson Silva fight.
Pun intended. They teach those in school but Izzy wouldn’t understand.
Welcome to the real America
So now chaos has descended on the 185 lb division, as the man who was thought to be embarrassing the company is now one of its titleholders. How will Dana White handle this? Will he embrace one of the biggest upsets in company history or will he look to correct a perceived mistake as soon as the schedule allows?
While I’d still expect Sean Strickland to get tickets to the next RNC convention, it’s probably likely now that, unless Izzy is tempted by who might become the next light heavyweight champion, the former middleweight champ is probably going to request and receive an immediate rematch. He’s the type of guy who will always be granted the chance to get his title back no matter how many times he loses it, unlike some former champions.
It’s just the way things work in the UFC. Oh and sorry, DDP. That’s what you get for being sensible and not wanting to fight injured on two months notice.
Then again, maybe this is all part of Izzy’s plan to make the fight with DDP the biggest fight ever. It’s never easy to know how these high level fighters think, as Sean O’Malley has proven.
Either way, whatever you think of Sean Strickland as a person, you have to respect the way he fought and the toughness and determination he showed to get in the face of one of the most intimidating figures in the sport and refusing to back down.
The war is over, the American won, and now it’s time for Johnny to come marching home. Kudos on the win as well as the song choice (my 2 year old is a big fan).
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