‘Gates of fire’ – Strickland’s coach reveals secret to beating Israel Adesanya

How did Sean Strickland beat Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title? Good cornering was key.

By: Zane Simon | 2 weeks ago
‘Gates of fire’ – Strickland’s coach reveals secret to beating Israel Adesanya
Israel Adesanya and Sean Strickland trade shots at UFC 293. - DAN HIMBRECHTS IMAGO/AAP

As hard as it still may be to believe, Sean Strickland utterly out-classed Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 this past Saturday. The Xtreme Couture talent stood toe to toe with the UFC middleweight champion for every minute of five rounds and, by the end of the second round, was winning pretty much every exchange.

Outside of Strickland’s friends and teammates, it was a result few saw coming. Israel Adesanya hasn’t exactly been unbeatable in the UFC, but a lot of what has been necessary to defeat him in the past has come through a combination of size and power that Strickland just did not seem to possess. The fact that he was able to shut down the ‘Last Stylebender’ so completely was a shock. But, it just might be that homework and coaching were the secrets behind the win.

Eric Nicksick shares message from Israel Adesanya

Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick has already been soaking up a lot of praise for his obvious preparation work in getting Strickland ready to fight for UFC gold. However, in a recent interview with Morning Kombat, he shared a little extra kudos he got from none other than Israel Adesanya himself.

“I also still felt [Adesanya] was still dangerous,” Nicksick admitted when talking about Strickland’s success. “There were some things that Sean was doing that I felt Izzy was setting him up for. Man, it was actually kind of a cool moment. I had a good talk with Izzy after the fight was over, in the back. Izzy came up to me, he was like, ‘You saved that man’s life.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah? How so?’ ‘Because you kept calling out my reads.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, because I saw what you were setting up.’

“One of the things was the southpaw drop step. Izzy orthodox, drops back into southpaw—drop step into southpaw—he would throw his southpaw cross at Sean’s right hand. And Sean was parrying it, like this [waves hand]. And I yell at Sean, I go, ‘Bro, he’s going to same side head kick you. It’s gonna come right behind it.’ I yelled it out and Izzy heard me yell it, and he’s like, ‘Holy shit, you called out my reads.’

“So, a lot of it was, I would know Izzy would start one way, and he has such a good juke-step to the other side and has this incredible calf-kick from there. A lot of that stuff we did with Danny, was emulating Izzy, was a lot of the movement and theory and stuff. Once we started to disrupt the timing and the rhythm, I felt like we had Izzy where we wanted him. I just felt like, yeah, you could say he was stuck in the mud, but he was stuck in the mud for a reason. Because we threw his ass in the fuckin’ mud.”

Erick Nicksick breaks down how to fight Israel Adesanya

A championship level fight isn’t won all on calling moves and making reads in the moment, however. There has to be some level of preparation. One of the hardest parts of keeping a title in the UFC is the fact that so many fighters, coaches, and camps are focused on finding ways just to beat the champ. For Nicksick, he feels they had the recipe right by the time Alex Pereira made his bid for the belt against Israel Adesanya.

“I felt like I did it, as an analyst, with Alex and Izzy in the first fight,” Nicksick said when asked how long it took him to solve Adesanya’s game. “I kind of broke the code on the movement. Think about the Battle of Thermopylae, right? The ‘Gates of Fire’ is to funnel a strong army into a narrow corridor. And that’s how the Spartans were able to beat the Persians, right?

“So, how can we do that, was the cage control and funneling. And I started to see that. I talked about it prior to the Alex Pereira fight. How could he beat him? That’s how you beat him. You have to be able to limit his movement and put him in a scenario where you know his only options are left, right, or panic-wrestle. And very rarely are you going to get a panic-wrestle out of [Adesanya].

“So, now, when it comes to your strikes, you don’t want to throw things—you might have heard me say, I want to aim everything at his chest. Because the chest doesn’t slip, the head does,” he continued. “I could hit him here. If I could find his chest, the next punch will find his head. So, a lot of funneling; not ‘throw’ punches, ‘place’ punches. Place punches to where you can funnel the strikes to where it’s going to matter, where you’re going to land.

“I think with enough tape, and enough time in the cage, you’re going to start understanding where he feels he’s most comfortable. I use the analogy that he’s a conductor to an orchestra. And that’s very true. He is that man. He knows where all the instruments go. But our job is to take the conductor stick out of the hand and disrupt the rhythm and throw some shit in there that takes away the harmony that he’s so accustomed to.”

Nicksick went on to give a lot of praise to Israel Adesanya’s feints and to the strength of City Kickboxing’s coaching team and what they’ve brought to all their fighters. For him, getting Strickland to disrupt Israel Adesanya’s feints and rhythm was a key to their success.

For the moment, it seems that Israel Adesanya will have to take what lessons he can from this loss and turn it around into a new camp, at least if Dana White is to be believed. The UFC president sounded bullish on the idea of an instant rematch for the Nigerian-born New Zealander. But it sounds like he’ll need to come in to that second fight with a dramatically different plan if he wants to win.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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