The now former champion struggled to really get any kind of rhythm going against Sean Strickland, who kept up an impressive pace, showcased incredible defense and just continuously peppered Adesanya with punches over five rounds. Strickland also scored a jaw-dropping knockdown early in the fight that really set the tone for his victory with Adesanya just never finding his footing before dropping the unanimous decision.
Even UFC president Dana White was dumbfounded at how the whole fight played out but particularly where Adesanya was concerned.
“Obviously, I expected a completely different main event,” White said at the UFC 293 post-fight press conference. “Whether Izzy won or Strickland won, nobody saw that coming.
“That Izzy would come in flat and slow and whatever’s going on with him, I don’t think anybody expected to see that.”
According to UFC stats, Strickland outlanded Adesanya 137 to 94 in total strikes while scoring the only knockdown with his near finish in the opening round. Strickland also controlled the pace throughout as he marched forward while applying constant pressure as Adesanya largely operated with his back against the cage without really offering much resistance.
“He looked like he couldn’t get off,” White said. “He looked like he was really stiff tonight. He looked very slow. Only Israel knows what’s going on. I’m very curious to see what he says at this press conference tonight.
“There are a million things that could go wrong. Some days you wake up and you’re just not there, man. It’s just not there. He looked bone-dry tonight, standing up really tall. He looked very slow. He looked like he couldn’t get off at all. Even in the fifth round when everybody knew he needed a knockout to win the fight, there was no sense of urgency to try to finish the fight. So I don’t know if he’s hurt or if tonight’s the night.”
The loss to Strickland came just five months after Adesanya vanquished arguably his greatest boogeyman to date when he knocked out Alex Pereira in April. In their first encounter in the UFC, Pereira scored a late fifth-round knockout to beat Adesanya to win the middleweight title, which followed an even more vicious finish from the Brazilian when they clashed in kickboxing a few years earlier.
Adesanya finally got his revenge against Pereira before he shifted his attention to Strickland on Saturday.
White suggested that perhaps the high stakes in those two fights may have played some part in the deflated performance from Adesanya on Saturday.
“That could be the thing, too — when you think about you’re going into the Pereira fight, such a big fight and you’ve been in there with this guy so many times and then you overlook Strickland,” White said. “I don’t know the answers to these questions but Israel does and I’m looking forward to hearing it.”
In his brief post-fight statement, Adesanya only offered Strickland congratulations on the victory without specifically addressing his performance.
Despite Adesanya losing 49-46 across all three scorecards when the fight was over, White still believes running it back again will be the most logical conclusion for the middleweight division.
That may not be the answer contenders like Dricus Du Plessis or Khamzat Chimaev wanted to hear but White appeared resolved in his plans to give Adesanya another shot at Strickland following the shocking upset at UFC 293.
“I think you do the rematch,” White said. “Absolutely. The rematch is interesting.”