After his big win, UFC color-commentator Daniel Cormier said he felt that Adesanya looked off and was likely tired from his grueling schedule of title fights. UFC President Dana White also said that Adesanya looked “slow” and may have “overlooked” Strickland.
“(Adesanya) looked bone dry when he came out tonight. Standing up really tall, looked very slow, looked like he couldn’t get off at all,” White said at the UFC 293 post-fight press conference. “I don’t know if he’s hurt… or if tonight’s just that night.”
Two former champions and one MMA pioneer are now pushing back on those comments from the two UFC figures.
Robert Whittaker says Israel Adesanya wasn’t “off,” he got shut down
Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, says he wasn’t a part of the majority of people who thought Sean Strickland would be an easy fight for Israel Adesanya.
“Let me just say, I didn’t think Izzy was going to run straight through Sean,” Whittaker said on his podcast. “My breakdown for that fight was Sean needed to put pressure on Izzy, get him moving back, get his back up against the fence, stay in threat range where he can hit Izzy, but Izzy can’t use his legs… The question was always how much damage is he going to take trying to get in that space, and the answer is not much.”
He also doesn’t believe the narrative that his former opponent in Israel Adesanya just had an “off night,” as he gave a technical analysis of what played out.
“Strickland had an answer for every one of Izzy’s techniques,” Whittaker said. “He was cutting off the cage perfectly, he was in that threat space where Izzy’s leg kicks were taken out of concern.
“Strickland’s defensive game was on point. With Izzy throwing those looping shots as he rope-a-dopes on the fence, Strickland was patient, just always keeping Izzy on the back foot,” he said. “It was honestly a great performance from Strickland.
“I see a lot of things popping up saying that Izzy looked off,” he continued. “I don’t think he had an off night. I think he looked off because Sean shut him down. Izzy wasn’t given any space in the open floor to do any of his tricky kicks, he wasn’t given any space to work any of his flinch games, with his punches. He wasn’t given the chance. Sean was in his face from the first bell ring.”
Whittaker thinks the early knockdown Israel Adesanya sustained also contributed to Strickland’s pressure game being far more effective.
“That first round just exasperated everything else. It boosted Sean’s confidence through the roof, and dropped Izzy’s right down,” Whittaker added. “Having a game the way Strickland does, being in threat range, being aggressive, forward — you need that confidence, and you need that doubt in your opponent, and it just set the stage for the other four rounds.”
John McCarthy, Josh Thomson push back on Dana White’s “bulls—t” narrative
Much like Whittaker, former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson also didn’t agree with Israel Adesanya fighting out of character and looking slower than usual.
“It had nothing to do with Izzy having a bad night, and had everything to do with Sean Strickland’s performance,” Thomson responded on his podcast. “He fought a fight that people don’t normally fight against Israel. The one guy that fought that way against him is Alex Pereira, and look what happened.”
His co-host, original UFC referee turned MMA analyst “Big” John McCarthy also echoed the same sentiment as he pushed back on Dana White’s comments on Israel Adesanya.
“Bulls—t. Dana can have his opinion,” McCarthy said. “You gotta understand, Israel is a moneymaker for the UFC. Of course, Dana’s gonna have a preference here in who his champion is, because one makes big money and one right now is not that guy. Maybe Sean will be that guy (eventually). But to sit there and say he looked slow, he did not look slow, he did not look slow at all. He showed he was faster than Sean Strickland.
“Managing the range, and deciding when the engagement is going to occur, when (Adesanya) can do that, he’s unbeatable because he’s so goddamn gifted,” he said. “He couldn’t do that against Alex. Alex crushed that on him and gave him problems. Sean in this fight, crushed that well. He was unable to control that range. Sean kept the pressure on.
“He was fast. He just got beat by a style and a guy that fought beautifully that night,” McCarthy said.
Israel Adesanya has ruled middleweight for years, but the UFC 293 upset loss marked the second time he has lost the belt in his last three fights. The 34-year-old’s overall record now drops to 24-3.
Sean Strickland on the other hand, improved to 28-5 and became an unlikely UFC champion with his career best performance on Saturday night.
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