Nothing that Sean Strickland will say — and he says a lot, much of it intentionally personally offensive — will come as a shock to Israel Adesanya, the UFC’s middleweight champion.
It’s a been there, done that type of thing.
Paulo Costa did much the same thing prior to meeting Adesanya in the main event of UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sept. 27, 2020. Adesanya delivered one of the most brutal beatings of his career, finishing Costa in the second with vicious elbows and punches.
Adesanya’s a massive favorite to do the same thing to Strickland on Saturday when they meet in the main event of UFC 293 in Sydney. Adesanya’s -650 to win and retain his belt, while Strickland is +450.
Generally, the reason a fighter talks trash to an opponent is to anger the opponent and lure him into changing his game. And Strickland has worked long and hard at blasting Adesanya. He’s released videos on social media designed to look like presidential campaign ads, in which he knocks the time Adesanya spent in China when he was a full-time kick boxer.
He derisively referred to Adesanya as “the Chinese champion,” and, later, a “Chinese slut.”
Adesanya, though, expected it and had his own little jabs ready.
“I think it’s silly,” Adesanya told Yahoo Sports. “Look, this guy just got his passport because of me. I don’t think he’s ever traveled out of the [United States], and I’ve traveled all over the world fighting. And this guy wants to clown me for going over and doing a drop in a different land, and he’s calling me a slut? …
“Listen, anything he says can be used against him. Look, he’s got his money fight now. … But he knows what’s coming. He knows, so he’s going to try to milk this as much as he can.”
Strickland got the fight when Dricus Du Plessis had to pull out with an injury. Adesanya insists that Strickland only got the bout because Strickland demanded it in talks with UFC management. Adesanya said he’d already beaten everyone in the top five of the middleweight rankings and felt that made Strickland the most appropriate opponent for him.
So he did Strickland a favor while also giving himself the opportunity to shut up one of his loudest critics. Strickland has mocked Adesanya for painting his nails and said fans come up to him all the time begging him to knock out Adesanya because, Strickland said, they believe he’s arrogant.
Adesanya laughs it off.
“Is that kind of [stuff] the best he can do?” Adesanya said. “He can find anything that takes away from my greatness. And given I’ve already beaten everyone in the top five, let’s take him out and move on from here.”
One of the reasons for Adesanya’s highly successful UFC run is because he’s continually searching to add pieces to his game. He has faced every type of style and has come out on top. He’s beaten wrestlers and strikers and jiu-jitsu players and done it all with a flair that has turned him into one of the UFC’s biggest stars.
He’s 34, now, though, but insists he hasn’t slowed at all. Not only does he have to make zero concessions to his age, but he insists he’s continuing to learn and improve.
“I feel like I’m improving my game every day, and of course, a lot of that is because of who I train with and who my coaches are,” Adesanya said. “We’re not satisfied and we’re always looking to add on, level up. I still have things I want to achieve in this sport and I’m not there yet, but I’m slowly but surely picking them away.”
One of his goals is to win by choke, which he’s intent on doing.
“We will eventually get it in done in a fight, but it’s been coming,” he said. “It’s the natural evolution. This game, it’s always evolving and you have to stay current. It’s why I have traveled the way I have. I am thirsty for knowledge and you get that by going to places that do things differently than you do and seek to add that as another [weapon] in the arsenal.”
He’s got more weapons than just about anyone, and he’s still searching for more. It’s yet another reason why he’s one of the greatest middleweights of all time and better than a 6-1 favorite to win Saturday.