In one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, Sean Strickland dethroned champion Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision to capture the middleweight title Saturday night in the main event of UFC 293.
All three judges scored it 49-46 for Strickland. The pay-per-view event took place at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia.
After a relatively quiet start to the opening round, Strickland made a loud statement in the final minute, catching Adesanya with a straight right hand flush on the chin to momentarily drop the champion. Adesanya staggered back to his feet, but Strickland pounced and ended the round with a flurry of punches while Adesanya covered up against the cage.
Adesanya reestablished his rhythm in the next round while Strickland stayed cautious and failed to ride the momentum from the first. Adesanya landed the biggest punch of the round inside the final minute, connecting with a big right hand to the head that stunned Strickland.
Strickland kept moving forward but stayed patient as Adesanya peppered him with a steady dose of leg kicks. He caught Adesanya with a solid counter left hand, the most impactful punch of the round.
Strickland hurt Adesanya with a jab and followed with a big left hook midway through the fourth round, moving the champion back against the cage as swelling began to develop under his right eye. Adesanya responded moments later, catching Strickland with an overhand right.
Potentially trailing on the cards entering the fifth round, Adesanya stuck to his guns, moving around the Octagon while throwing leg kicks and occasional punches instead of going for broke. Strickland kept the pressure on as Adesanya circled him. Sensing the upset, Strickland began barking at the champion as the final bell sounded.
Strickland (28-5), ESPN’s No. 8 middleweight, has won three straight fights and nine of his past 11.
Adesanya (24-3), ranked No. 4 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings, was making the first defense of his second reign as middleweight champion. He regained the 185-pound belt in April with a knockout of Alex Pereira.