UFC 293: Israel Adesanya breaks silence on shock title defeat to Sean Strickland in Sydney

  • 21/09/2023
Israel Adesanya congratulates Sean Strickland.
Israel Adesanya congratulates Sean Strickland. Photo credit: Getty Images

Kiwi UFC superstar Israel Adesanya has broken his silence over his shock defeat to Sean Strickland at UFC 293 in Sydney earlier this month. 

'The Last Stylebender' was comprehensively outfought by heavy underdog Strickland to lose the middleweight title via unanimous decision - a result that's been widely ranked as one of the biggest upsets in the promotion's history. 

Adesanya was reluctant to speak after the bout, entrusting his coach Eugene Bareman to address the media at the post-fight press conference on his behalf. 

Speaking with his brother David Adesanya on his YouTube channel 'Freestylebender' on Thursday, Adesanya spoke in detail for the first time on the mental journey he went through against the American. 

"How did I feel in there? Like a bad dream," Adesanya said.  

"It wasn't a nightmare. A nightmare is like you're scared. It was just like, you try and hit the guy and it just feels like noodle arms. Just like, what the f**k? I just felt like that - like a bad dream.  

"The feeling I had watching it was completely different, and I called [coach] Eugene [Bareman] right afterward and we talked - and same thing, I'm quietly confident." 

Sean Strickland celebrates towards the end of the fight.
Sean Strickland celebrates towards the end of the fight. Photo credit: Getty Images

Strickland's gameplan was simple but effective – ramping up his high-pressure approach to afford Adesanya minimal breathing room to find his groove on the foot, backing that up with his trademark air-tight defence to excellent effect. 

Strickland's renowned coach Eric Nicksick was vocal from the corner throughout the fight and Adesanya credits him with ensuring his fighter was always one step of him. 

"I just wasn't able to get my rhythm because of his pressure," he said.  

"He was right there constantly, and whenever I was setting him up because he's right there, then his coach would help him, and I'd be like, 'f**k.' It was just a good game plan from their end. But also, for me, I wasn't able to adjust on the fly.  

"I said it before the fight, I think his guard is just real unique and unorthodox, so I wasn't able to find my jab, and I'm able to find my jab [always].  

"I can find the chin. I'm very confident in that, but his guard was just good. It was good. Good defense and good offense, well-rounded game." 

Strickland dropped Adesanya towards the end of the opening round but the City Kickboxing product says he felt completely recovered by the start of round two, bouncing back to claim his only round of the fight on the judges' scorecards. 

On review, he noted the offbeat nature of Strickland's one-two combination had caught him off-guard. 

"Right afterwards we disengaged and I thought 'right, I'm clear, I'm lucid. Back on the attack. 

"It just got me in between the rhythm. It was good, it was nice shot. Clean." 

Originally slated to face South African Dricus Du Plessis until injury scratched him from the card, Adesanya suggests the switch in opponent corresponded with a loss in intensity, admitting he "didn't have that venom" for Strickland. 

But he insists he still felt on top of his game before making the walk to the Octagon at Qudos Bank Arena, before he suddenly found himself down three rounds to one and chasing a finish in the fifth and final round to salvage victory.  

"I felt better in the back," Adesanya said. "I was like, 'f**k, I'm sharp.' But in there just felt like a bad dream.  

"My arms were just noodles. I had no snap. It was just weird. At one point I knew 'I've got to finish this guy, I've got to finish this guy.' And I tried. I set him up a couple times, he defended it well, corner helped him out, they were guiding him well. 

"I don't like fighting like that. I like fighting to win and not be on the defensive primarily. I like to be offensive in certain situations, like in the last round, 'OK, we've got to go,' but I just couldn't go. 

"It was just the way I felt in that fight. It was just, bleh. But again, it was also just the way he worked. He just never let me get into my rhythm at all." 

As for what's next, Adesanya remains coy, offering a simple: "We'll see". 

UFC president Dana White says he's open to an immediate rematch, although there are also suggestions Adesanya may take the chance for some extended recovery from the toll of a highly active schedule that's included three title fights in 11 months. 

Either way, he's not done with the division just yet, adamant he'll return at some stage to attempt to become a three-time middleweight world champion. 

"The belt's never mattered to me," Adesanya said.  

"I mean, it does obviously, but how many times have I said it's just a fancy tiara that brings more money and this and that. I've already got belts, I have many belts. 

"I'm just going to do it again, just for fun."