Veteran Middleweight contender, Sean Strickland, will square off opposite relative newcomer, Abus Magomedov, this Saturday (July 1, 2023) at UFC Vegas 76 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Love or hate his fighting style and antics, Strickland has proven himself one of the best Middleweights on the planet. Remember how great Jared Cannonier looked a couple weeks ago? Strickland arguably beat him back in December! Since that split-decision loss, Strickland rebounded for a quick win to derail Nassourdine Imavov’s momentum and has since struggled to book a fight. Magomedov is willing to jump on that opportunity. The Russian athlete is best known for his work in PFL, where he repeatedly demonstrated himself a nasty finisher and made it to the finals in 2018. At 32 years of age, Magomedov is in his prime and ready to try to break into the rankings.
Let’s take a closer look at the skill set of each athlete:
Strickland is a boxer first and foremost.
All the way back early in his UFC career versus 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 Middleweight run, Strickland has shown how he can employ his boxing skills in various situations (GIF). 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.
Strickland’s defense has to be mentioned as a strength, even if it played into Alex Pereira’s stupidly powerful hands. Strickland really excels at parrying punches and checking hands while advancing. Even when shots do land, he does good work in rolling with them, and overall is statistically one of the more difficult to hit men at 185 pounds. Unlike the vast majority of MMA fighters, Strickland is generally comfortable and competent at seeing punches in the pocket, likely a testament to the mass amounts of sparring Strickland tends to do.
Strickland’s ability to parry shots and fire back — on the counter or lead foot — is a core component of his game. It’s pretty much what makes Sean Strickland who he is as an athlete. Though adding takedowns into his attack would’ve been wise, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Strickland remained true to his style against Pereira. Going against elite opposition and only bringing one’s B game to the table is a difficult prospect, even if Pereira’s left hook demanded an adjustment.
Abus Magomedov is a powerful, experienced kickboxer who has stopped 14 opponents via knockout. He’s very dangerous on the feet, and he’s willing to take chances to land big shots.
Magomedov is a striker who likes to work in bursts. At distance, he does a lot of feinting and kicking. Fortunately, he has a deep kicking arsenal filled with strikes that hurt enough that feints must really be respected! Several times, he’s finished opponents just by blasting round kicks into the open side with good speed and power. He complicates this further by mixing more straight kicks into his attack, going up the middle in a more stabbing manner.
Since Magomedov is already a fast fighter with heavy hands, his feint and burst style is very effective. If his opponent freezes at all, the Russian athlete can close distance suddenly and do huge damage. Or, if his foe backs away from the feint, Magomedov can still pepper his circling foe with a big kick.
One of the more impressive elements about Magomedov’s attack is that he can slip shots while firing combinations. His aggression gets him caught some times — see his PFL loss to Louis Taylor — but for being such an aggressive fighter, Magomedov does well to slip counter shots and fire right back.
Lastly, Magomedov does strong work in mixing his kicks and punches. Of course, he’ll finish combinations with kicks as his foe circles off, but he does the opposite too. Magomedov will often use his kick to step forward and close distance, allowing him to shock his foe with a hard shin connection then immediately start firing combinations.
More often than not, both men are content to strike
Against Uriah Hall, however, 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 85 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 six years, only Kamaru Usman has managed to take down Strickland.
For a man who mostly strikes, Magomedov’s wrestling is actually really good! He turns to his takedown offense more consistently than Strickland, and he’s shown skill all over the cage. He definitely excels the most in the clinch, where he does nice work in pummeling to the body lock then trying to hook legs for trip takedowns. When his opponents try to trip him up, Magomedov is often able to win that battle and counter his way into top position.
Magomedov has a strong shot as well. His reactive takedown commonly ends with a big lift and slam, which is generally a habit. If his opponent does hit the fence, Magomedov does a nice job of splitting his opponent’s legs with a deep step, which makes the lift a lot more effective.
Magomedov has submitted six foes via submission, but the guillotine is clearly his best weapon, responsible for four of his wins. Whenever his opponent shoots, Magomedov looks to dig one underhook and start fishing for the neck with his other arm.
Once he wraps up the neck, Magomedov abandons the underhook in pursuit of the finish. He likes the Cody McKenzie-style variation of the high-elbow guillotine, in which his non-choking arm pushes the outside of the choking wrist down and into the carotid. It’s a very tight, very deep variation of the choke that tends to put opponents to sleep quickly. Plus, Magomedov can finish the McKenzitine without pulling guard, either by applying standing pressure or forcing his foe to their back.
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.
This is odd matchmaking. Strickland should be in the cage with someone like Vettori, Du Plessis, Whittaker, or even Brunson, but none of those men are available. Instead, Magomedov gets a huge opportunity in just his sophomore UFC performance, and Strickland has a whole lot to lose against a dangerous opponent.
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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