Middleweight loudmouth, Sean Strickland, will look to continue his climb opposite ground-and-pound specialist, Jack Hermansson, this Saturday (Feb. 5, 2022) at UFC Vegas 47 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Strickland’s path to (relative) stardom has been an interesting one. For years, he struggled to build momentum or fully capitalize on his talents at Welterweight, fighting infrequently and failing to string together a major win streak. A motorcycle accident sent him to the sidelines for some time, but it also seems to have flipped a switch in “Tarzan,” who returned at 185-pounds better and more active than ever before. Undefeated (4-0) since that return, Strickland has a newfound confidence, one that is apparent both in his actual fighting and in his unhinged public persona. It’s an odd combination, and perhaps it’s even unrelated, but Strickland seems to be thriving in his own unique way.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
There’s a certain bit of Diaz-ness to Strickland’s boxing style. He’s a touch flat-footed and never seems to throw all that fast, but a consistent jab and lots of volume have nevertheless allowed him to fluster many opponents.
At any rate, Strickland is a boxer first and foremost. All the way back early in his UFC career vs. Luke Barnatt, Strickland showcased a solid jab. He’s still using that probing strike to find his distance and do damage, but Strickland’s hands have been exceptionally loose in recent performances. As a result, he’s really snapping the punch, which is why seemingly innocuous connections are bloodying up the nose and convincing his foes to back off. Strickland doubles up the jab well and will often follow with his right hand.
In his recent wins, Strickland has shown how he can employ his boxing skills in various situations. Against Brendan Allen, for example, Strickland did tremendous work from the back foot. Allen stalked his foe, looking to establish his own jab and kicks. The low calf kicks were definitely an issue — they usually are against a jabber like Strickland — but the Californian did do a nice job of intercepting Allen’s jab with his own. In addition, he helped avoid the low kicks by scoring a takedown off one early in the bout.
Having at least somewhat mitigated his foe’s primary range offense, Strickland was landing the better shots, encouraging Allen to push forward even harder. Despite his reputation for flat-footedness, Strickland actually changed directions really well once in the pocket. He’d wait for Allen to throw then evade at an angle, often stepping to his left behind a check left hook or intercepting right hook across the center line.
Allen landed some shots, but he consistently walked into harder ones while trying to force a scrap. Just as he started to pick up a bit of momentum with his low kicks, Strickland planted his feet and really sat on a counter 2-3 combination. Both punches landed clean, and Strickland swarmed hard to score the finish of a very bright talent (GIF).
In his next bout, Strickland walked Krzysztof Jotko down the entire fight. Initially, Strickland was having trouble getting his jab going and walked into left hands, but he soon made smart adjustments. He began leading with his cross and following up with the left hook, which can often catch Southpaws blind.
Jotko was avoiding the pocket and staying evasive, which forced Strickland to kick more often. He first established a front kick up the middle with his right leg. Then, Strickland began targeting the lead calf with switch kicks. Throughout the second half of the fight, Strickland was lifting his knees in marching steps, keeping his foe confused on which strike was coming and helping him to land more and more significant calf kicks. The slower Jotko’s feet grew, the more Strickland touched him with punches.
Finally, Strickland defeat Uriah Hall primarily bout out-jabbing “Prime Time,” which is no easy feat. Hall’s best weapon is his jab, a powerful tool that capitalizes on his massive reach. Despite this, Strickland was able to outwork him with his own lead hand for a number of reasons.
For one, Strickland was throwing more jabs. Hall’s jab is a piston, but Strickland was likely throwing three jabs for each of his opponents — the simple numbers game counts for quite a bit. In addition, Strickland was well-prepared for Hall’s jab, making the adjustment of sliding his right hand in front of his chin, keeping it there and ready to parry. As a result, he was able to fire back right away, further discouraging Hall from jabbing with him.
Many exchanges went something like this: Strickland flicked a jab, Hall attempted to answer with a power jab that was parried, and Strickland immediately fired back a jab or left hook of his own. Now, Strickland definitely got stung right on the nose a few times in the process, but winning the jab battle allowed him to keep Hall on his back foot and prevent many of his big swings before they happened.
Strickland’s bouts tend to end up kickboxing battles more often than not. He’s definitely opportunistic with his ability to gain top position. For example, his two of his more recent takedowns came from catching a kick from Allen and hitting a switch on Court McGee — reacting to his opponent’s offense. It may not usually be a main aspect of his game plan, but Strickland has been pretty nasty with top strikes when able to get on top.
Against Hall, Strickland was more active with his attempts to ground his opponent. He shot for a few double legs along the fence and did find an outside trip in the open, but much of his success came when Strickland was able to get behind Hall. From that position, Strickland dragged his foe down several times, even throwing in a hook standing to help trip his opponent to the canvas.
Defensively, “Tarzan” has defended an impressive 80 percent of the takedowns that have come his way. Often, Strickland will use the fence to defend, leaning against the cage and spreading his legs wide. He does a nice job of hand-fighting from this position, preventing his opponent from locking up the double and keeping him stuck on one leg.
In the last five years, only Kamaru Usman has managed to take down Strickland.
Strickland has secured four wins via tapout in his professional career, but his sole submission inside the Octagon came in his UFC debut vs. Bubba McDaniel. That performance was a great demonstration of how important strikes can be to MMA grappling exchanges, as Strickland pummeled his foe with elbows and punches to convince McDaniel that giving up his back was a good idea.
It was not. Strickland has attacked the back in other bouts, but it has not yet resulted in another rear-naked choke finish. He did manage to do big damage to Hall from top position as well, convincing him to give up his back before the clock ran out.
Fortunately, Strickland has yet to be submitted inside the cage, either. He did scramble with a grappling specialist in Igor Araujo quite a bit back in the day, holding his own with the jiu-jitsu black belt and never winding up in trouble.
Beneath the strangeness, Strickland is the classic case of a fighter who started young and accrued a ton of experience, both in the Octagon and in the gym. Now 30 years of age, Strickland is well-rounded and confident, ready to make the most of his potential.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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