American Sean Strickland pulled off a stunning upset to defeat Nigerian Israel Adesanya, claiming the UFC middleweight title by unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards after an thrilling five-round battle, at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia.
Strickland set the course for victory with a thunderous right hand at the end of the first round, almost securing a knockout and though Adesanya managed to make it to the break, he never really got going again after that.
Adesanya, who has ruled the roost as middleweight champ for most of the last four years, failed to find a way to break Strickland down and the 34-year-old Nigerian was caught several times by stiff jabs from Strickland that slowed him down.
American Strickland taunted Adesanya in the closing seconds of the final frame, confident of victory after 25 minutes of stalking his opponent, defending brilliantly and using his boxing to force Adesanya to fight off the back foot.
Known for his creative striking, the Nigerian-born Adesanya became increasingly desperate as the fight wore on and he won only one of the five rounds, with the three judges awarding the rest to Strickland on identical 49-46 scorecards.
“Oh my God, literally never in a million years did I thought I’d be here,” Strickland said in an interview in the cage after UFC president Dana White wrapped the championship belt around his waist.
“The majority of my friends he’s beaten pretty easily, so I was even kind of doubting myself, but I’ve gotta say to the fans, you guys motivated me,”
After giving him a hostile reception on his way to the octagon and cheering for Adesanya, who grew up in neighbouring New Zealand, throughout, the crowd hailed the new champion for his gutsy performance.