In a shocking turn of events, American fighter Sean Strickland pulled off a major upset by defeating Nigerian-born New Zealander Israel Adesanya to claim the middleweight title at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia. This marked the first UFC event in the city in six years, and Strickland's victory came by way of a unanimous decision with all three judges scoring the bout 49-46 in his favor. The 32-year-old Strickland, known for his controversial comments leading up to the fight, expressed his disbelief and emotions after the win, stating, "Am I dreaming? Am I going to wake up? Someone hit me... I'm a little shocked that didn't happen."
Adesanya, who had strong support from the crowd at Qudos Bank Arena, was expected to dominate his opponent and retain the title he won just months ago. However, Strickland's defensive and counterattacking style proved to be highly effective throughout the fight, as he landed more significant strikes and left Adesanya struggling to find a way to inflict damage. It was Strickland who found the first telling strike in the opening round, dropping Adesanya with a clean straight shot and following up with a flurry of strikes to secure the round in his favor.
Although Adesanya showed more assertiveness in the second and third rounds, finding his range with kicks and right-hand shots, he continued to leave himself open for Strickland's counterattacks to the body and head. As the fight progressed, Adesanya struggled to make any impact on Strickland's solid defense, ultimately leading to a dominant performance by the American fighter. In the final round, Strickland seized the opportunity to go after the champion, launching a flurry of punches and kicks in the closing minutes to solidify his victory and claim the middleweight title.
Strickland acknowledged the support he received from the Australian fans, expressing how their energy fueled him throughout the fight. He also admitted to doubting himself at times but ultimately proved his worth by defeating an opponent known for his highlight-reel knockouts. Strickland's victory sent shockwaves through the MMA community and caught the attention of the New South Wales state legislature, where a government lawmaker had to defend the state's payment of approximately $10 million to host the UFC event due to Strickland's controversial comments.
In the co-main event, Alexander Volkov emerged victorious in a heavyweight bout against Sydney-born Tai Tuivasa. Despite an injury to his front leg targeted by Tuivasa, the Russian fighter dominated the match, landing numerous strikes before securing a submission victory in the second round. The main card also featured impressive knockouts by Australian Tyson Pedro and New Zealander Justin Tafa, as well as a five-round unanimous decision win by Manel Kape in a flyweight match against Felipe dos Santos.
The unexpected outcome of Strickland's victory proves once again that in the unpredictable world of MMA, anything can happen. UFC President Dana White wasted no time suggesting a potential rematch between Strickland and Adesanya, recognizing the international star power and appeal of the former champion. As the MMA landscape continues to evolve, Strickland's triumph serves as a reminder that underdogs can rise to the occasion and defy expectations.