Sean Strickland’s head coach clarifies Khamzat Chimaev rumors, reacts to ‘dangerous’ Paulo Costa booking

Sean Strickland’s head coach Eric Nicksick is setting the record straight — although he shouldn’t have had to.

Nicksick recently did an interview with Sportskeeda and the topic of a potential fight between Strickland and the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev came up. The Xtreme Couture leader appeared to jokingly say that the reason Chimaev isn’t facing Strickland is because “I don’t think Sean can travel to Saudi or something — not 100 percent sure.” As it tends to happen in the MMA space, a quote like that can get taken out of context by aggregator accounts, which it did.

So now Nicksick wants to clarify.

“I don’t know, that was my guess and it wasn’t like, ‘Sean’s not fighting because of this,’ I was like, ‘I’m guessing he probably can’t get into Saudi Arabia.’ It was more like tongue in cheek,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “I don’t freaking know. Like it was a hard time to even get into Australia.

“So when [I was asked] the question, I even said, I was like, ‘I’m not even 100 percent sure, but I’m guessing because he probably couldn’t get into Saudi’ and then everybody’s [saying] that’s why the fight didn’t happen. I’m like, ‘Oh man.’ So it was literally that. It was like, ‘I have no idea, probably because of this.’

“But Khamzat is going to be the draw in Saudi Arabia, so I think it was more of a location set up than anything. And if there’s gonna be any hurdles whatsoever of getting Sean anywhere, then why even risk putting him as a headliner on that card? So it makes complete sense to me.”

Nicksick did mention that the UFC approached him about a potential matchup between Strickland and Chimaev while his fighter was still the champion. The matchup didn’t come to fruition and Strickland instead went on to headline UFC 297 against Dricus du Plessis, who captured the title via split decision in an incredibly close five-round battle.

“I know when Khamzat beat [Kamaru] Usman [at UFC 294], they wrote me and [said], ‘Hey, what’s the earliest you think you can have Sean ready to fight Khamzat?’” Nicksick said. “And I was like, oh… because that was gonna be the title fight, ‘He’s in the gym, we’ll be ready whenever you let us know.’”

“And then Khamzat, I believe, got sick or he had something going on, if I remember correctly. Like an infection or something, I can’t remember what, but it put him on the back-burner for a little while and that’s why we ended up getting Dricus.”

Chimaev headlines UFC Saudi Arabia on June 22 against former champion Robert Whittaker, in what is Chimaev’s toughest test to date.

Strickland also has his next booking set as he faces one-time title challenger Paulo Costa in a five-round co-main event at UFC 302, which takes place June 1 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Nicksick has been impressed with Costa as of late, and while Strickland may be the higher ranked fighter, and in a good place when it comes to the title picture, they are looking at Costa as one of the toughest fights in the middleweight division.

“I was perfectly fine with it,” Nicksick said. “I think Costa is always a dangerous threat in the division and I think he’s deserving [of a fight like this]. I actually thought he looked really good against Whitaker — I didn’t think he won the fight, but I actually was very impressed with how good he did look. … I mean, there’s everything else that has been booked in the way everything’s been shuffled. It’s like he’s the opponent that kind of fell… not saying fell to us, but he was the guy that was available and willing to fight.

“So with that being said, we’re a win away from another title fight, so it’s very important not to overlook Paula Costa. He’s very dangerous opponent and we need to go out there and get the job done.”

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