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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 293’s Sean Strickland

Volume puncher, Sean Strickland, will challenge Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight kingpin, Israel Adesanya, this Saturday (Sept. 9, 2023) at UFC 293 inside Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia.

Is Strickland the most deserving title contender at 185 pounds? No, certainly not. Is he at least a significant style threat to the champion? Also no. Really, Strickland benefitted from UFC’s mishandling of the Dricus du Plessis vs. Robert Whittaker fight, and the simple fact that Adesanya has already beaten up most of the division. It’s a combat sport in four-ounce gloves, so there’s always a chance, but the odds are firmly stacked against Strickland here.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

LIVE! Watch UFC 293 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

MASSIVE MIDDLEWEIGHT MATCH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its highly anticipated return to Sydney, Australia, for the first time in five years on Sat., Sept. 9, 2023, with a 185-pound world title fight inside Qudos Bank Arena. In the ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Middleweight roost-ruler, Israel Adesanya, plans to silence No. 5-seeded contender, Sean Strickland. In UFC 293’s hard-hitting Heavyweight co-main event, No-6-ranked fan favorite, Tai Tuivasa, locks horns with towering Russian, Alexander Volkov (No. 8).

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

UFC Fight Night: Strickland v Magomedov Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


This will be the fourth fighter breakdown I’ve written on Sean Strickland in less than a year, a strange situation complicated by the fact that Strickland hasn’t demonstrated a new technique or strategy in ages. Strickland, ever the model of consistency, has a handful of weapons that he uses and little else.

A boxer first and foremost, Strickland has showed a solid jab since his UFC career started. He’s still using that probing strike to find his distance and do damage, but Strickland’s hands have been looser since moving to Middleweight. 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 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.

The same weapons — mostly straight punches, some kicks mixed in — but applied very differently.

A highlight of Strickland’s kickboxing came when he defeated Uriah Hall primarily by 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 defense has to be mentioned as a strength, even if it played into Pereira’s 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 in general 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.

For some more recent analysis, Strickland’s bout with Cannonier showed off his strengths and weaknesses really well. On one hand, Strickland rarely was hit clean. He was very successful in parrying away Cannonier’s many big swings, and his own straight punches definitely shook Cannonier on several occasions.

On the negative side, Strickland’s lead leg definitely got chewed up. He managed to check a few kicks and never truly looked limited by the damage, but low kicks definitely swayed close rounds for Cannonier. Similarly, Strickland failed to commit to his counter punching. Often, he’d parry a combination then reset and jab, rather than try to punish Cannonier’s attempts at offense right away with heavier shots. These two factors cost him the razor-thin decision.

Strickland’s last two fights showed the value of consistency and experience. Against Nassourdine Imavov, unrelenting pressure and good boxing fundamentals made the athletic Frenchman look a lot slower and more pedestrian. His inexperience in 25-minute fights also benefitted Strickland, who just kept backing Imavov up with volume as his foe fatigued.

Fatigue was a huge factor for Abus Magomedov as well. Magomedov kicked the crap out of Strickland’s body and lead leg in the first round ... thoroughly exhausting himself in the process, because blasting dozens of power kicks is a lot of work! Strickland showcased garbage kick defense — lots of kicks landed cleanly or bounced off a single arm at the last second — but he endured the barrage without major issue then pummeled him in the second.


UFC 199: Strickland v Breese Photo by Harry How/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


Strickland’s bouts tend to end up kickboxing battles more often than not. He’s definitely opportunistic with his ability to gain top position, looking to catch kicks and convert that moment into top position, where he’s known to do good damage.

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 84 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. At Middleweight, no opponent has successfully taken down and controlled Strickland for any significant length of time.

UFC Fight Night: McGee v Strickland Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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.

We’ll see if Strickland goes back on his word and embraces jiu-jitsu this weekend.

UFC 199: Strickland v Breese Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


I do not see a compelling case for Strickland to have much for Adesanya this weekend. Maybe he shocks us all with a brilliant game plan that revolves around dragging “Stylebender” to the floor, but he didn’t do so against “Poatan,” so it’s hard to have faith in such a surprise. More likely, Strickland does what he always does against a world-class striker and hopes for the best.

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.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 293 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPNN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 293: “Adesanya vs. Strickland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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