Israel Adesanya, often referred to as “The Last Stylebender,” finds himself at a professional crossroads after his recent loss at UFC 293. The match marked his second significant setback within a year and has led to extensive debates regarding his performance. UFC President Dana White did not mince words in his post-fight press conference, describing Adesanya as looking “slow” and “flat.” However, former UFC referee John McCarthy has unequivocally dismissed White’s assertions as “bullsh*t,” thereby reigniting the conversation around the fight’s dynamics and implications.
Israel Adesanya had reclaimed his middleweight title this April by defeating Alex Pereira, just months after losing it in November of the previous year. With this return, Adesanya aimed to reassert his dominance, setting his sights on a successful first defence in his second tenure. However, Sean Strickland, largely considered an underdog, proved to be a formidable obstacle. Strickland’s effective tactics led to Adesanya’s unanimous decision loss, throwing him once again into a cycle of self-examination.
In the aftermath of this startling defeat, various theories began to circulate, attempting to dissect Adesanya’s surprising performance. UFC President Dana White chimed in, categorically stating that Adesanya looked “slow” and “flat.” Given Adesanya’s status as a financial asset for the UFC, White’s comments opened up a Pandora’s box of questions about whether his judgement was coloured by financial or preferential bias.
John McCarthy, a veteran presence in the MMA community, sought to set the record straight in the latest episode of his “Weighing In” podcast. McCarthy, who was co-hosting the episode with ex-Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson, outright dismissed White’s comments, stating, “Bullsh*t (that Adesanya wasn’t himself). Dana can have his opinion. You gotta understand, Israel is a moneymaker for the UFC. Of course Dana’s gonna have a preference here. But to sit there and say he looked slow — he did not look slow, he did not look slow at all.”
According to McCarthy, Adesanya’s issues stemmed not from a lack of speed, but rather from his inability to control the pace and range against Strickland. McCarthy elucidated, “The guys that give him problems are guys that can (stop him) managing the range and deciding when the engagement is going to occur. When he can do that, he’s unbeatable. He couldn’t do that against Alex (Pereira)… and Sean, in this fight, crushed that.”
While Dana White signalled the possibility of an immediate rematch for Adesanya, not everyone seems to be on board this time. Former two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier, among others, has advocated for a new set of contenders and a potential hiatus for the beleaguered fighter.
Another unintended consequence of this post-fight debate has been the relative overshadowing of Sean Strickland’s performance. Strickland, who entered the fight as a considerable underdog, executed an almost flawless strategy, leading to a unanimous decision win. The newly crowned champion’s efforts, therefore, deserve as much attention, if not more, than the debate surrounding Adesanya’s performance.
As the dust settles on this highly controversial fight, the narratives surrounding it will likely continue to evolve. McCarthy’s perspective adds a layer of complexity to an already multi-faceted discussion. It challenges the overarching discourse, which seems inclined to attribute the loss solely to Adesanya’s supposed lack of form, thereby unfairly diminishing Strickland’s undeniable prowess. McCarthy summed up this sentiment aptly: “He (Adesanya) was unable to control that range… Izzy did not look overtrained… He was the guy that was putting out way more energy. He was in shape, he was fast. He just got beat by a style and a guy that fought beautifully.”
Hence, while the UFC and its community grapple with the ramifications of Adesanya’s loss, it’s crucial to approach the discourse with nuance and objectivity. Whether Adesanya receives an immediate rematch or takes time to recalibrate, the undeniable fact remains: Sean Strickland was the superior fighter on that fateful night, and any interpretation of the fight’s outcome should duly acknowledge this reality.