UFC 293 wasn’t really set up to be anything special. What had been promised to be a major grudge match between champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Dricus du Plessis became what looked to be a filler fight for the title; ‘The Last Stylebender’ taking on #6 ranked Sean Strickland, simply because Strickland happened to be the only top middleweight coming off a win and who the champ hadn’t already beat.
A promising flyweight battle between Kai Kara-France and Manel Kape fell apart, and the co-main event between Tai Tuivasa and Alexander Volkov didn’t hold the promise of being all that competitive. What followed, however, has sent a shock through the MMA system.
Israel Adesanya: The next Anderson Silva
When Israel Adesanya first stepped into the Octagon, comparisons to Anderson Silva were quick on the tongues of MMA pundits, even as they felt terribly misplaced. Sure he was a rangy, slick striker with tricky technique and some surprising power, but his talent was much more rooted in traditional technique, and in creating counters off of persistent offense.
It’s a credit (and perhaps something of a curse) then, that Adesanya truly did fight his way into the Anderson Silva conversation. Much like Silva, he made staying active a priority. The title defenses started to stack up, and even just by the time he lost his belt to Alex Pereira, he’d already had a longer, more successful reign than any other champion in middleweight history other than the ‘Spider’.
At the same time, much like Silva, Adesanya started to develop a reputation for idiosyncratic performances in the Octagon. Sometimes he looked like a legend, sometimes he looked like he was barely hanging on. It’s hard not to think of the Brazilian’s remarkable first fight against Chael Sonnen when contextualizing Adesanya vs. Strickland. Only in this version, Strickland didn’t blow it all in the final seconds. In this version, the ‘Bad Guy’ won it all.
Joe Rogan wishes he’d been there for Strickland vs. Adesanya
2010 was still smack-dab in the middle of the glory days for UFC commentator Joe Rogan. At the time, joined by Mike Goldberg, the now-famed podcaster was on hand for just about every single fight on every single card the UFC had to offer. So of course, Rogan was on hand for Silva’s stunning comeback win.
These days, however, Rogan is something of a selective attraction for the world’s largest MMA promotion. He only works PPVs, and even then, only domestic cards inside the US-of-A. So when it came to UFC 293, Rogan was firmly ensconced in his studio watching on TV, just like the average fan. A decision he might just be regretting slightly, having seen where the night ended up.
“Unbelievable,” Rogan said of Strickland’s win during his UFC 293 ‘Fight Companion’ web show (transcript via MMA Mania). “He did it. That wild motherf—ker is the world middleweight champion of the world. God I wish I was there. I wish I was there for that.”
To Rogan’s mind, Sean Strickland won every single round, including the second. “All those significant strikes, that’s all nonsense,” Rogan said of Adesanya’s round 2 success. “You’re looking at leg kicks that get checked, you can’t count those as significant strikes.” The fact that things became so one-sided left Rogan in awe, especially given that Adesanya is still in his prime.
“What world are we living in,” Rogan added. “Wow, he did it. He’s got the UFC middleweight championship around his waist, he beat the best ever in his prime. After he lost to Pereira … unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
ESPN was less impressed
Perhaps it’s something of an opposite end of the same chaotic continuum that ESPN can’t seem to handle Israel Adesanya’s loss. If Rogan sounds dumbstruck by the idea that Sean Strickland is now middleweight champion of the world, the UFC’s media broadcast partner just looks dumb.
ESPN is one among a series of outlets that have decided to create an independent (ish) ranking systems for the broader MMA world. With the UFC running rankings for their own fighters, ESPN hopes to create a more contextualized flavor. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that nobody actually needs these things to make sense.
With only one fighter in their MW top ten from outside the UFC, it seems like Sean Strickland’s victory over the man broadly considered to be the best 185er in the world would carry a lot of weight. Apparently not.
That’s right folks. No you don’t need glasses, yes you’re reading that right. Mopping the floor with Israel Adesanya for the bulk of five rounds bumped Sean Strickland all the way up #5 in the ESPN rankings. As for Adesanya? A devastating, potentially legacy changing loss that absolutely nobody saw coming dropped him all the way down to #1 from #1.
Here’s ESPN’s attempt to explain the madness:
Israel Adesanya did not look like the better fighter when he was inside the Octagon with Sean Strickland at UFC 293.
But that was just one night, and over the long haul, one bad performance does not define a fighter any more than one good performance does.
So despite Strickland now owning the UFC middleweight belt, Adesanya remains at the top of the 185-pound heap in the latest ESPN divisional rankings.
Strickland moves up in the top 10 — but he remains far from the top.
It’s not hard to see the broad outline of their argument. Adesanya has beat the majority of the top 10 at one point or another. Strickland wasn’t supposed to win, and the world he left behind is undoubtedly a difficult one to find sensible footing. But, this just feels wrong on a deep down gut level.
Sure, Strickland lost to Cannonier, but that was a dreadfully close, near even fight. But, turning around and beating a fighter the ‘Killa Gorilla’ could barely take a round from has to be worth more than that razor thin loss on Strickland’s record.
If the excuse is all about the “long haul,” then what is Whittaker doing ranked below Du Plessis? Sure Dricus knocked him cold, but “one bad performance does not define a fighter any more than one good performance does.” Whittaker was a champion and his second fight with Adesanya was razor close.
Give more weight to the individual victories or reward the career accomplishments, but ESPN should keep it consistent whichever way they want to go. Sean Strickland’s victory at UFC 293 has unquestionably blown minds and left a much less sensible world in its wake. Hopefully whatever title fight comes next creates some badly needed clarity around here.
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