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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 33’s Sean Strickland

Middleweight upstart, Sean Strickland, will look to continue his sudden rise opposite fellow striker, Uriah Hall, this Saturday (July 31, 2021) at UFC Vegas 33 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This is an obvious understatement, but Strickland’s motorcycle accident changed his life. It kept him on the sidelines for almost exactly two years, but when Strickland returned to action, it was a rebirth. A pretty serious unbeaten prospect back in 2014, Strickland’s progress really stalled when he dropped to Welterweight. Back at 185 pounds, however, Strickland’s fire is renewed. He looks confident and comfortable, which has lead to a trio of really great performances, extending his win streak to four and earning him a better position in the rankings than any point previous.

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

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Striking

If I may be so bold, Strickland’s recent striking performances remind me a bit of the Diaz brothers. To be clear, there are some major, major differences, but Strickland’s ability to march down his opponents with little steps while doing considerable damage with stiff punches is certainly comparable. I do wish, however, that he’d take a note from those two and target the body more often.

UFC Berlin: Mousasi v Munoz - Match 8: Sean Strickland v Luke Barnatt Photo by Boris Streubel/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

What’s really interesting about Strickland’s last two victories, arguably the best of his career, is that he employed a pair of very different strategies, though both made great use of his boxing prowess.

Against Brendan Allen, 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.

UFC Fight Night: Allen v Strickland Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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).

Last time out, 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.

Wrestling

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 last two 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.

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

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.

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.

UFC 171: McDaniel v Strickland Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It was not. Strickland has attacked the back in other bouts, but it has not yet resulted in another rear-naked choke finish.

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.

Conclusion

Strickland’s confidence is high, and that’s resulting in some great performances. At 30 years of age, “Tarzan” appears to be entering his prime, and if he can score a big win in his first-ever main event slot, it sets him up for a potential Top 5 opponent next.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 33 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 9 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 33: “Hall vs. Strickland” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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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