In a jaw-dropping showdown that has sent shockwaves throughout the MMA community, Sean Strickland dethroned Israel Adesanya to claim the UFC middleweight title in the octagon at UFC 293. But this wasn’t just another fight; this was a high-stakes battle that marked UFC’s triumphant return to Sydney, Australia, for the first time in six years. Notably, this event had even rattled the cages of the New South Wales state legislature, igniting debates over a substantial $10 million investment to bring UFC back to Sydney—particularly after Strickland’s controversial comments during pre-fight media appearances.
The 32-year-old American, holding a 28-5 record, had entered the match on the heels of a PR storm. His pre-fight news conference was marked by statements that were widely criticised as sexist and misogynistic. Strickland was already a contentious figure, but his remarks added a psychological layer to what was already anticipated to be a volatile showdown. “Am I dreaming? Am I going to wake up? Someone hit me … I don’t cry much but I’m trying to keep it together right now,” said an emotional Strickland after his triumph. With eyes glistening, he pondered his win, adding, “I give up so many brain cells to the MMA gods … I thought I’d be walking away a little bloody, a little broken up. I’m a little shocked that didn’t happen.”
Adesanya, the Nigerian-born New Zealander, walked into the arena as the darling of the fans and the bookmakers’ favourite, thanks to a 24-3 record and the vocal support from the crowd at the Qudos Bank Arena. These were the same fans who had roared when Adesanya won the title from Alex Pereira at UFC 281. However, despite the fanfare and expectations, Adesanya couldn’t find the chinks in Strickland’s armor. Strickland’s counterattacking approach kept him ahead in the game, making it difficult for Adesanya to deliver significant damage.
The first round set the tone, with both fighters displaying a cautious start, each probing the other’s defence and strategy. But it was Strickland who landed the first significant punch—a crisp straight shot that knocked Adesanya off balance, followed by a flurry of punches and strikes that secured the American the opening round.
Attempting to turn the tide, Adesanya came back aggressively in the second and third rounds, using his kicks and right-hand shots to build some offensive momentum. However, he continued to leave openings that Strickland masterfully exploited. By the closing rounds, Adesanya had retreated into a defensive shell, a surprising move for a fighter known for highlight-reel knockouts. Strickland acknowledged this point, saying, “You don’t fight that guy with that many highlight-reel knockouts. The majority of my friends, he’s beat pretty easily. I was even kind of doubting myself at times.”
Strickland also credited the Australian fans for keeping his energy high. “But I’ve got to say, the fans in Australia, you guys motivated me. When I’m walking in here and I heard you guys yelling. In that fourth round, I heard you guys yelling. It fueled me.”
Strickland, who had accepted the fight on short notice as a replacement for the injured South African rival Dricus du Plessis, had previously earned his title shot through wins over Abus Magomedov and Nassourdine Imavov. His victory was not just a personal accomplishment but a complex tapestry of narratives that added new layers to the world of UFC.
Beyond the main event, the co-main feature saw Russian Alexander Volkov dominating Tai Tuivasa, despite a leg injury. Winning by submission in the second round, Volkov acknowledged Tuivasa’s resilience, saying, “[He took] so many punches and he was still on his legs. This guy is very tough.” Earlier in the night, Australian Tyson Pedro, New Zealander Justin Tafa, and Manel Kape also chalked up impressive victories, adding to the event’s electrifying atmosphere.