Wednesday, November 29, 2023

UFC 293 fight card — Israel Adesanya vs. Sean Strickland: Five biggest storylines to watch in Australia

For the first time since 2017, the world’s leading MMA promotion returns to Sydney, Australia, for a UFC 293 pay-per-view card from Qudos Bank Arena

Israel Adesanya looks for the first defense of his second 185-pound title reign (and sixth overall) when he faces Sean Strickland in the main event. Heavyweight slugger Tai Tuivasa also returns to home soil as he looks to shake a two-fight losing skid when he faces perennially tough Alexander Volkov. 

The rest of the undercard features more fighters from the Oceanic region looking to make a statement. Knockout artist Justin Tafa is back when he takes on Austen Lane in a rematch from earlier this year. The two met in April, but a brutal eye poke from Lane moments into the fight resulted in a no contest as Tafa could not see. Elsewhere, fan favorite Tyson Pedro is back in a light heavyweight contest opposite Anton Turkalj. And rising light heavyweight contender Carlos Ulberg takes on Da Woon Jung in the preliminary main event. 

As we draw closer to this weekend’s fights, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering UFC 293. 

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1. This is not an acceptable pay-per-view card

I know, we have been through this conversation before in 2023. And, yes, UFC 293 lands within a month that is already loaded with extra special Fight Night cards, as its sandwiched between UFC Paris and the Sept. 16 Noche UFC event that features a title fight. Still, even with a few injuries that forced last-minute bout changes, this simply isn’t the type of value — on paper, at least — that UFC typically produces on the PPV level. Top middleweight contender Dricus du Plessis proving unable to turn around so quickly to face Adesanya certainly hurt the event, as the champion, who has already cleaned out the division, was forced to extend a title shot in the direction of the rare 185-pound fighter in the top five who he has yet to face. The card is littered with names that fans based in the Oceanic region certainly know well, but doesn’t over much to those living abroad. 

2. Israel Adesanya has been lights out on Australian soil

A native of Nigeria, Adesanya has lived in New Zealand since he first started training MMA at the age of 21. He might as well consider purchasing a second residence on Australian soil, however, where he is 5-0 in MMA (and 2-0 in kickboxing) as a professional. In fact, all five of Adesanya’s MMA victories have held some form of significance: he captured middleweight titles in two regional promotions (AFC and Hex Fight Series, 2017), won his UFC debut (2018), defeated his combat sports hero Anderson Silva (2019) and knocked out Robert Whittaker to win the UFC title later that year. A fight against Strickland, where Adesanya sits as a 6-1 betting favorite, doesn’t appear to hold the same level of importance on paper, yet it still marks the start of an all-new title reign after Adesanya avenged a fifth-round knockout loss to rival Alex Pereira in 2022 by dramatically stopping him in their April MMA rematch. 

3. What type of fight week shenanigans does Sean Strickland have planned? 

The 32-year-old Strickland has been oddly tame in terms of his typically erratic behavior and crass humor in the build to UFC 293. Some of that could be due to comments Adesanya made in August that the UFC was initially worried about booking Strickland for the fight out of fear he might embarass the promotion. Either way, it’s likely that Strickland will raise the temperature a bit in some form once he arrives in Sydney throughout each of the fight week media events. Although Strickland is 8-2 over his last 10 fights, dating back to 2018, he has lost both times he has stepped up to the elite level and isn’t being given much of a shot by oddsmakers (he’s nearly a 5-1 underdog) or media members. Which begs an interesting question …

4. Are we prepared to live in a world where Strickland is UFC champ? 

Although he’s a big underdog, Strickland certainly has something of a puncher’s chance against Adesanya. Or does he? Strickland employs an aggressive striking style heavy on trunk and head movement from the pocket. But he has gone the five-round championship distance four times in his last six fights, which can either be seen as a positive because of the experience accrued or a negative in the sense that he’s not much of a finishing threat when he steps up in class. Upsets, however, have been rampant within the UFC over the past two years, particularly in championship fights where everyone from Adesanya and Kamaru Usman to Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko saw their extended title reigns abruptly come to an end. A Strickland victory would be shocking but not improbable to imagine. But what might be a difficult pill for some to swallow would be the idea of Strickland representing the brand with a UFC title around his waist. Depending upon your level of tolerance for shock humor, Strickland is either the master of uncomfortable jokes or an outright abomination with a microphone in front of him as he typically goes out of his way to offend as many people as possible in ways that are anything but politically correct. Some of that is Strickland’s natural lack of tact but other times it feels calculated, almost in a pro wrestling sort of way and straight out of the “Attitude Era” of the late 1990s. He’s going to need a handler, for sure, should Strickland pull the upset (and, hopefully, a 7-second delay anytime he appears on live television).

5. Is Tai Tuivasa coming or going as a UFC heavyweight threat? 

It’s an understandable question considering the kind of run the hard-living Australian slugger has been on since 2020, when he responded to a trio of UFC defeats by authoring an impressive five-fight knockout streak. The success elevated Tuivasa to a much higher level, which brought with it bigger purses, viral popularity due to his post-fight “shooey” celebrations and much more difficult opponents. Although Tuivasa was plenty game in a third-round knockout loss to Cyril Gane last September, he endured a tremendous beating in the process. Even worse, he chose to return only two months later in a fight against rising destroyer Sergei Pavlovich, who flattened Tuivasa in less than one minute. Nine months later, Tuivasa is back but the matchmaking gets no easier in the form of Alexander Volkov. How much has Tuivasa used the time off to increase his cardio and round out the more raw elements of his technical skills? And has his strategy and philosophy changed at all as an all-or-nothing slugger who simply can’t avoid turning every fight into a war? If Tuivasa hasn’t returned as a new version of himself in some way, Volkov is the wrong opponent to stand in front of.

Who wins UFC 293: Adesanya vs. Strickland, and how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on every fight at UFC 293, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $6,200 in 2022, and find out.

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