Mixed Martial Arts: Kiwi-Nigerian Israel Adesanya loses middleweight crown to Sean Strickland at UFC 293

For the second time in 10 months, Kiwi-Nigerian Israel Adesanya has lost his middleweight belt, shocked by American underdog Sean Strickland in a unanimous points decision at UFC 293 in Sydney.

After regaining his crown from archrival Alex Pereira, Adesanya was expected to dispatch his fifth-ranked opponent with ease, but fell behind early and could never recover.

Strickland, 32, rocked the champion with a big right cross in the opening round and never trailled from that point. Adesanya may have chipped out the second round, but his rival clearly took the other three.

Israel Adesanya is defeated by Sean Strickland at UFC 293.
Israel Adesanya is defeated by Sean Strickland at UFC 293. Photo credit: Getty Images

The pair had exchanged barbs in the build-up, with Strickland playing the loudmouth American role perfectly, but he was all business on the night, frustrating Adesanya with his tight defence.

"Am I f***ing dreaming?" declared Strickland. "Am I going to wake up? Someone hit me.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be here. I don't cry much, but I'm trying to keep my sh*t together right now."

In fact, Strickland wasn't meant to be here. South African Dricus du Plessis earned the No.1 contender spot with his win over former champion Robert Whittaker in July and most assumed he would get next crack at the belt.

When he withdrew with injury, fifth-ranked Strickland was fast-tracked into the title fight, off the back of a performance-of-the-night TKO over Abusupiyan Magomedov in July.

While the pair showed no love for each other in the days leading up to the event, Adesanya sensed his grasp on the belt slipping and gamely applauded the decision, embracing Strickland and congratulating him afterwards.

"Izzy's a bad motherf***er," said Strickland. "You don't fight that guy with I don't know how many highlight knockouts.

"The majority of my friends, he's beat pretty easily and I was even doubting myself at times, but the fans in Australia motivated me.

"I work so hard and give up so many brain cells every day. I thought I'd be walking away a little bloody, a little broken up and I'm shocked that didn't happen.

"This is the first time I'm lost for words."

Adesanya must now take stock of his future and whether he has another comeback in his tank. He may have to take a number and join the line, with others sensing a new dawn in a division he has dominated for so long.

"The division has movement," tweeted Whittaker. "Congrats @SStricklandMMA, great fight mate.

"Can’t wait for the future."

Carlos Ulberg defeats Da Woon Jung at UFC 293.
Carlos Ulberg defeats Da Woon Jung at UFC 293. Photo credit: Getty Images

Meanwhile, training partner Carlos Ulberg scored his first submission win in the Octagon, forcing rival Da Woon Jung to concede with 11 seconds left in their light-heavyweight preliminary contest.

'Black Jag' celebrated his victory by calling out former championship contender Dominick Reyes, currently ranked 13th in the division, but reeling from four consecutive defeats. 

Reyes went the distance with champion Jon Jones in February 2020, before succumbing to Jan Blachowitz seven months later for the vacant title. Two more early exits followed and he hasn't fought since last November.

Against Jung, Ulberg barely raised a sweat, but had his opponent reeling with a series of left jabs in the second round, taking him to the ground briefly. The Korean fought back in the third, but when the Kiwi pinned him to the mat, raining punches to his already bleeding face, Jung was in trouble.

Ulberg employed a rear-naked choke in the final seconds and Jung tapped out with 11 left on the clock.

"Anything is possible," declared Ulberg, who has now won five straight, after losing his UFC debut two years ago.

On the early card, French debutant Kevin Jousset - recently relocated to City Kickboxing - scored a first-round submission over Kiefer Crosbie, but Shane Young and Blood Diamond both suffered defeats.