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Tarzan of The Trailer Park, Sean Strickland

Odd Matchmaking

When Strickland vs Adesanya was announced for the middleweight belt, I was conflicted. Israel was coming off of a decisive win against Alex Pereira. There was an awkward face-off between Dricus Du Plessis and Adesanya after the former’s surprise victory over Robert Whitaker. It looked like a showdown between the two African fighters was imminent. 

When injury and setback reared its all too common head, the matchmakers had a job to do. They had to find a new contender for the belt. Jared Cannonier just had his shot, but it was less a chess match and more just a boring 50-45 fight. Whitaker/Adesanya 3 didn’t sound fun, and Whitaker had just lost to the aforementioned DDP. Marvin Vettori couldn’t get a fart out against the champ in their last fight. 

This left Sean Strickland. Strickland himself was coming off of a victory against some guy. Although he headlined a fight night card against an unranked opponent, it was a masterful performance. 

Sean Strickland wins the Middleweight title, UFC 293. Image – Sky Sports.

The Strange Countenance of Sean Strickland

Before last weekend, Strickland was on my radar as someone with exceptional skill, a wild persona, and an abrasive presence to the UFC brass. His style wasn’t hard hitting or flashy, but he is an easy fighter to watch, and a great salesman. When Strickland shoots his mouth off, people tune in. He says wild things. He says outlandish things. There isn’t anything he won’t ask. Some would say, he’s insensitive.  I, personally, think he’s very sensitive

I don’t think the negative response he’s garnered is altogether unwarranted. He says intentionally incendiary things, goes on controversial podcasts, and is unabashedly political. MMA and sports media in general would like their athletes to be controversy-free, middle of the road, “I just want to entertain my fans” types, but there is a greater truth here.

The Greater Truth

The greater truth is this; Dana White and company do not give a single solitary flying fifth of a shit about controversy or political views as long as it puts eyeballs on fights. As much pearl-clutching and finger wagging the MMA media and podcast-o-sphere does, no fighter will ever by dropped for talking shit. Multiple fighters can drop multiple extra extra naughty words on one card, and as up in arms as the MMA internet gets, there will be no consequences from UFC brass. This is looked at as a huge detriment, the sport being represented in the wider culture by regressive cavemen, or a great credit, the sport being a breath of fresh air from the greater culture of hypersensitivity and weakness. 

Either detriment or credit is a strict matter of perspective. The reality is that if a fighter makes waves they get shots, no matter how boring or undeserving they seem to be. Relevant example.

For Sales or For Life?

Whereas it is hard to determine if Colby Covington’s persona was developed as an authentic representation of who he is, or a desperate ploy to keep from getting cut from the UFC, Strickland bleeds authenticity. Sean Strickland does what he does because that’s what he does. He would be the same pouring concrete or in front of the world’s eye. 

In The Ring As In Life

Strickland’s style of fighting matches his style of interview. He stays in his opponent’s face. He comes forward and enacts his game. Strickland’s interviews have always been confrontational, daring the interviewer to follow him into deep, personal topics. In the ring, he stays in the pocket and forces his opponent to fight on the back foot and exhaust their conditioning. Dealing with this guy will get you tired. 

Sean is not without his charm and skill. At first glance, Sean’s boxing is basic, barely past fundamentals. His personality is sloppy and jarring. As a fight goes on, you see how effortlessly he slips out of range, making precise reads to force his opponent to miss. His lead hand grabs to shut down offense, and then jabs his opponent from within range. He’s able to land straight shots easily and overwhelm an already fading opponent. 

Strickland v Adesanya, UFC 293. Image – Al Jazeera.

In an interview, he makes his statement, stands by it, and doesn’t blink when challenged. He does the verbal equivalent of planting his feet and throwing. This kind of confidence is refreshing, despite how questionable his message can be at times. 

An Underdog Story

Whether you see Sean Strickland as a degenerate hick who failed upwards into a title, or a true American Hero, the Tarzan of the trailer park, the Weeb Slayer, he took that belt off of Izzy without question. There wasn’t a controversial stoppage, a sketchy scorecard, or a premature doctor intervention. You can’t even say Sean beat Israel with slick athleticism or superior skill. Strickland came into that fight as an overwhelming underdog and definitively dismantled Izzy’s style with basic, fundamental boxing. This kind of undoing is rare in sports in general, and as MMA fans, this is like lightning striking. It’s compelling, it’s unexpected, and it’s the best part about the fandom. It’s the kind of story line that makes true when people say, “you never know what could happen.” 

Strickland v Adesanya, UFC 293. Image – South China Morning Post



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