UFC 293: Israel Adesanya refuses to buy into heavy favourite tag for title defence against Sean Strickland

Israel Adesanya.
Israel Adesanya. Photo credit: Getty Images

In regards to Kiwi middleweight king Israel Adesanya's title defence at UFC 293 in Sydney on Sunday, pundits, fans and fellow fighters alike are almost unanimously aligned with their predictions - that Sean Strickland will be the easiest opponent of his championship tenure.

And it's simple to understand why.

Were it not for injury to South African Dricus DuPlessis, the fact that Adesanya has essentially cleared out all other contenders and was desperate to feature at the first Australasian event since 2020, it's safe to say Strickland wouldn't have come close to sharing an Octagon with 'The Last Stylebender'.

Those factors combined mean Strickland has been gift-wrapped rather than earned an opportunity both at Adesanya's belt and the biggest payday of his life by virtue of being paired in a pay-per-view headliner with one of the sport's biggest draws.

Even the American himself, who's been leaning into his guise as a MAGA-driven motormouth, concedes as much, thanking Adesanya for the chance to leverage the City Kickboxing product's cache - no matter the outcome of the bout.

That fact isn't lost on Adesanya, who is well aware of the chance - and associated pay cheque - he's affording Strickland this weekend.

"I got him his first passport, I got him his first flight out of his country. I got him his big money fight," said Adesanya.

"He should be really grateful for this, and I mean this sincerely. 

"Hes talking all of this sh*t and it's whatever, but he should really be grateful because I'm changing his life for the better."

Sean Strickland.
Sean Strickland. Photo credit: Getty Images

As Adesanya alludes, it hasn't meant Strickland's has held back with his pre-fight trashtalk.

At Thursday's pre-fight press conference, Strickland poked fun at everything from the "cringe-lord" champion's love for anime to his fashion sense, laughing off any genuine fight talk in his trademark jovial manner.

Describing Strickland as "that idiot at the back of the class who talks loudly over you just to get his point across", Adesanya believes it's all a gimmick - and one he's experienced enough to know better than to buy into.

"He doesn't care. He knows I'm going to beat him, so he doesn't care. He's going to try and do his best to beat me by any means necessary.

"A man with nothing to lose and everything to gain is a dangerous man."

The difference between the resumes of the two fighters is glaring. Fresh off reclaiming his belt from Alex Pereira with one of the most sensational knockouts of his career, Adesanya has beaten the who's-who of the middleweight division. The No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he can already lay claim to the best 185lber in history.

In stark contrast, nine-year journeyman Strickland (27-5) has lost two of his last four fights with a strength of schedule that pales in comparison to the calibre of fighters his opponent this weekend has faced.

Those last two losses came against Jared Cannonier and Alex Pereira, when Strickland - whose primary strength is as a wrestler - showed his inability to resist being drawn into a fire fight in the striking department.

He's suggested - perhaps with tongue in cheek - that he'll again try to test himself on the feet against Adesanya, who's arguably the most technically proficient and dangerous striker in the entire UFC.

Adesanya isn't buying it, insisting he's well prepared for - and welcomes - a grappling-heavy showdown. He's been in the trenches with multiple world champion jiu-jitsu black belt Craig Jones and is eager to put some of his newfound skills to the test in pursuit of his first ever submission victory.

"He did say he's a better striker than me, so I welcome him to try," he said.

"This is different, this isn't a regular fight. He wants this, he wants that (belt). He tries to brush it off to relieve himself of the pressure. 

"But I think he's going to wrestle and I've got something for his a*s, because me and my buddy Craig Jones have been hanging out a lot. We've been around the world. We've been training. 

I've been doing this for a long time and im yet to choke a motherf**ker out, so that's one thing thats on my list.

"I hope he wrestles and if not, cool. We'll stand and bang. He's selling wolf tickets by the way when he talks about that. 

"I don't think he's going to man dance with me and if he does, I'm a better dancer than him."

In fairness, Strickland utilised his striking to excellent effect in his most recent win against Abusupiyan Magmedov en route to a second-round TKO. 

But Adesanya isn't giving that result much credence, saying this weekend's scenario reminded him of the one he faced against Brazilian Paulo Costa back in 2020.

"[Strickland] looks good against guys who are human punching bags,"he said.

"Roll back the tape to UFC 253. I said the same thing about Paulo Costa. I said Paulo looks good against human punching bags.

"Look at Sean's last fight. he  fought Abus and he was a human punching bag, and just stood there and got beat the f**k up.

"I told you guys Paulo would not catch me and I'd catch him eventually and knock him the f**k out, and I did. This is not my ego talking, this is me speaking facts.

"Sean fights guys and looks good against them because they let him look good against him. They let him get in their head.

"He's a dangerous guy if you let him be. But I'm not stupid."

If Strickland were to somehow have his hand raised on Sunday it would represent one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

Most believe the fight itself will resemble litle more than an Adesanya sparring session, a suggestion he's quick to play down.

"I hear people talking about the odds… I don't listen to those voices. I look at myself as the underdog in this fight. 

"I just want to beat people up, in different styles until I retire and then I'll look back and be like, 'f**k I was the man'.

"In the meantime, Sean is next. I focus on him. And I don't take him lightly. I dont underestimate him, but I don't overestimate him 

"He's a dangerous guy but I have a habit of making dangerous guys look easy."

The card features a host of Adesanya's City Kickboxing teammates, including Caros Ulberg, Shane Young, Blood Diamond and French debutant Kevin Jousset.

Join Newshub at 12pm Sunday for live updates of UFC 293