New UFC champ Sean Strickland must balance his woke scourge persona with a redemption story

Sean Strickland shocks the world by being well behaved on the mic and "ready to die" in the cage.

By: Chris Rini | 2 weeks ago
New UFC champ Sean Strickland must balance his woke scourge persona with a redemption story

Sean Strickland’s ‘Michael Bisping Moment’

When the UFC 293 main event was announced, I wrote about the potential for Sean Strickland to have a sort of “Michael Bisping Moment,” wondering if he could overcome the dual roadblocks of Israel Adesanya and his own dirtbag persona to forge a new identity in MMA. In the moments after Bruce Buffer announced the judges’ decision it appeared that the answer was… maybe?

MW Adesanya portrait standing copy
What is next for Israel Adesanya? A number one contender fight with DDP, please.

“Am I dreaming?”

As it was announced that Sean Strickland is the new UFC middleweight champion there was a moment where the underdog had to put aside the trolling and accept the belt, accept the cheers, and the moment itself. I hoped for a post fight interview was full of admissions that lurk deep within the recesses of Strickland’s 4chan stream of consciousness inner dialogue and the man did not disappoint. He did not expect to reach these heights, he praised his opponent Adesanya, and expressed a broader understanding of what matters in life acknowledging the need for a happy home more than a life based on achievements.

Sean Strickland, champion

UFC 293 was an evening rife with post-fight interviews that were confrontational and littered with profanity and slurs, but somehow Sean Strickland was one of the more endearing figures on the mic. Was that even more remarkable than his fight? I think so, because this is a man who has trained most of his life for violence, not self awareness.

Sean Strickland imploding versus Alex Pereira
Sean Strickland imploding versus Alex Pereira

The press conference afterwards saw a return to equilibrium and the Sean Strickland we’ve gotten to know over the years re-emerged, albeit with a new twist. He has always presented himself as a company man, possessing the perfect combination of violence and compliance. However the first thing that came out of his mouth was delight at Dana White and Hunter Campbell’s discomfort over a Strickland title reign. The blue collar antagonist was delighted to stick it to the bosses. While Strickland has always been amenable to the UFC’s requests, the curtain was pulled back a bit as he noted “What I’ve learned about the…UFC, is since when do you have a f*cking choice of who you fight?”

With the whole MMA world looking on in admiration instead of revulsion, there are cracks in the persona.

This has happened before

The main event made me think back to three title fights from years gone by, besides Michael Bisping versus Luke Rockhold (I already wrote about that): Chael Sonnen versus Anderson Silva 1

Israel Adesanya versus Kelvin Gastelum

Alexander Volkanovski versus Max Holloway 1

First: Sean Strickland sold this fight as best he could. It was never going to be as charming or witty as the WWF-inspired promos Chael Sonnen cut on Anderson Silva, but the core concept of each challenger’s approach was the same. They weren’t buying into the myth of the champ’s greatness and were going to take the fight to him. Both Strickland and Sonnen waded head first into the sniper’s nest and as the rounds wore on there was a muted admission within the commentary booth that the champ was down on the cards.

Chael Sonnen puts some ground and pound on Anderson Silva

Second: Israel Adesanya’s legend was born in the moments between rounds 4 and 5 of his fight with Kelvin Gastelum. Bruised and swollen faced, Adesanya mouthed the words “I’m prepared to die,” and proceeded to outclass Gastelum in a performance for the ages. He became unhittable, countering his opponent and repeatedly dropping Gastelum. At UFC 293 as the fighters waited for referee Marc Goddard to signal the start of round 5 I looked for that same fighter and he wasn’t there; or rather he was, but in the blue corner. Sean Strickland, perhaps unknowingly, echoes Israel Adesanya’s words in the post-fight presser, saying that “for 25 minutes you gotta tell yourself ‘I’m ready to die…’”

MW Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum 90
“I’m prepared to die”

Third: If you’ve ever watch or run track, there’s a dynamic that plays out where everyone starts at the same place and one runner slowly and steadily pulls ahead of their competition. I had that feeling watching the first Volkanovski vs Holloway fight, as each round ended that gap got a little bigger and one man emerged as the better. The same thing played out in round five, where Strickland seemed to realise that victory was within his grasp and he did not relinquish the momentum. It was borderline inspiring to see Strickland shouting at Adesanya as the final minute ticked away and feel he was shouting at himself just as much.

FW Max loses to Volk copy
Max Holloway’s third loss to Alexander Volkanovaski was the most definitive ending in their rivalry.

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You might not agree with our opinions about the UFC but you gotta admit we call ‘em like we see ‘em without kissing up or kowtowing for access. Support independent MMA opinions by subscribing to the Bloody Elbow newsletter. I’ll be there on Thursday with The Fine Art of Violence column and an art gallery of Saturday’s finest moments. Take care of yourself and I’ll be back here next Monday. Chris

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About the author
Chris Rini
Chris Rini

Chris Rini is an artist and BloodyElbow’s editorial cartoonist. He has been an artist since 1996 and publishes an annual book called The Fine Art of Violence. Chris has worked in Mixed Martial arts since 2013 and in his spare time makes terrariums, plays keyboards, and trains BJJ.

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