Sean Strickland (Anton Gurevich/Sherdog)

UFC 293: Adesanya vs. Strickland Preview and Predictions

The UFC heads back down under this weekend for a high-profile pay-per-view event featuring one of the sport’s greatest strikers, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. He regained his belt the last time he fought, knocking out his longtime rival Alex Pereira in the second round of the pair’s MMA rematch and their fourth combat sports showdown. His opponent this weekend is brash American slugger Sean Strickland. Strickland has won two straight contests, including a stoppage win over highly touted prospect Abus Magomedov the last time he fought. Strickland wasn’t necessarily next in line to fight for the title but with Dricus Du Plessis unable to fight, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, and the California native couldn’t pass it up.

In the co-main event, a pair of heavyweight behemoths square off as Tai Tuivasa takes on Alexander Volkov. Tuivasa is in major need of a victory as he has lost two fights consecutively, losing via knockout to both Ciryl Gane and Sergei Pavlovich. Volkov has had another career resurgence lately, rattling off back-to-back TKO wins over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Romanov. Those two wins put him back in the conversation of future title challengers after a submission loss to Tom Aspinall thwarted any momentum he had built.

Opening up the main card is a light heavyweight fight between Tyson Pedro and Anton Turkalj. Pedro, the Australian, comes into this fight with the crowd behind him against his Swedish counterpart. Both men lost their last fights, with Pedro falling to Modestas Bukauskas via a unanimous decision while Turkalj lost to Vitor Petrino. For “The Pleasure Man” this is a must win because after a standout performance on Dana White’s Contender Series he has dropped both of his official UFC bouts.


The UFC 293 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPNEWS and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Israel Adesanya defeated his longtime rival Alex Pereira to reclaim the middleweight championship; can he start a second successful run by defeating Sean Strickland?

Kuhl: On paper, the UFC 293 main event should be a no-brainer. Israel Adesanya has been a dominant champ, minus the “hiccup” against Alex Pereira, and he is a sniper in the striking department. Plus, for a middleweight, he is tall and rangy, and, against challenger Sean Strickland, he will have a height and reach advantage of at least a few inches each. “The LAst Stylebender” has only lost twice in 26 pro MMA fights, and one was a decision loss to Jan Blachowicz in a light heavyweight title bid. DraftKings has him currently as a -650 favorite.

Strickland is not as polished, nor does he want to be. In the cage and in training, the California native is a complete dog. He is known for his hard sparring, and he is also known for being almost impossible to put away. Sure, he has been stopped twice in 32 pro fights, but one was a knockout by the aforementioned kickboxing star Pereira, which is nothing to scoff at. The only other time Strickland was stopped was when he got caught with a spinning kick from Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, which was a bit of a freak occurrence.

The biggest issue that Adesanya will face with Strickland is the toughness. Strickland does have a better ground game than Izzy, but these guys just want to beat each other up. Strickland is the higher volume striker, and arguably the harder hitter, but as we saw in the Pereira rematch, all it takes is one laser from Adesanya to end it. However, that may not be enough to put Strickland away.

Strickland can take punishment, and the fact that he does not have to cut as much weight as Pereira may play into his favor. Dehydration leads to a higher chance of being knocked out, because fighters lose the elasticity in their brains. But, Strickland is fighting closer to his walking-around weight than Pereira was fighting at 185 pounds. If Strickland can drag Adesanya into deep waters, he may actually have a chance to capture gold. And, there is always the possibility that Izzy gets too comfortable and gets caught. That is not how I see this one going. I have a feeling Strickland is just going to press forward and make this one exciting, until Izzy clips him and puts this one away before the end of the third round.

Petela: This simply isn’t a compelling fight. Looking at both men’s strengths and weaknesses there really is no clear path to victory for Sean Strickland. The two ways Israel Adesanya has lost in the UFC is by being outwrestled by a larger man in former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz and being knocked out by the thunderous punching power of Alex Pereira. Strickland doesn’t really have the skills necessary to beat him in either of those fashions.

No doubt about it, Strickland is as tough as nails. But in the words of former Bellator and UFC commentator Jimmy Smith, the only thing toughness does when it isn’t accompanied by commensurate talent is make a beating more interesting. That is basically what we are going to see this weekend. Strickland will march forward and Adesanya will pick him apart for as long as the fight lasts. I think this goes into the championship rounds, longer than Dan thinks, but we see this one ending the same way. Adesanya gets his hand raised after a dominant performance and a late knockout victory.

Tai Tuivasa has been knocked out in his last two fights; can the fan-favorite get back on track and get past former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov?

Petela: These two fighters couldn’t be on more opposite trajectories. Tai Tuivasa was on the brink of a world title shot before being knocked out by Ciryl Gane and then the second knockout loss in a row to Sergei Pavlovich really set him back. He is in major need of a win unless he is content just being a fun fighter to watch who won’t ever be considered the baddest man on the planet. Meanwhile, Alexander Volkov has won two fights back-to-back after a first-round arm lock submission loss to Tom Aspinall. Every time it feels like Volkov’s best days are done, and he is ready to fall back into the role of gatekeeper, he goes on a winning streak, and fans have to think if he has what it takes to make another run at gold.

Both of these guys are going to want to keep the fight standing, which should make this a heck of a fun fight. The edge in technique goes to Volkov, who will also have superior kicking skills. Tuivasa holds more power in his hands, but he will need to close the distance to get into boxing range. That will be difficult, and he will get picked apart for the majority of the fight. However, all it takes is one clean shot to land for Tuivasa, and he will be able to draw his Russian counterpart into a brawl, causing the tenor of the fight to change in an instant. Not unlike the ending of the Derrick Lewis fight, this will be a fight that Volkov is winning, until he’s not. Third-round knockout win for “Bam Bam” Tuivasa.

Kuhl: I’m going to be in agreement with my colleague on this one. Alexander Volkov is a highly talented and technical knockout artist and his grappling is pretty solid. Not to mention, he has a huge frame. He is the betting favorite for a reason. That being said, there is something about Tuivasa fighting in his hometown that brings that X factor.

I, too, think that Volkov will dominate much of the early fight, until he gets caught with a booming punch that sends him face first into the canvas. Tuivasa by knockout.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 293?

Kuhl: I’m going with Tai Tuivasa. The Aussie is the betting underdog on his home turf, and he hasn’t been able to do a shoey there in years. Alexander Volkov has a size advantage, but with the crowd going bonkers, Tuivasa is going to catch the huge Russian, and drink some foot-flavored lager on his way out of the cage,

Petela: This is a much tougher question to answer this week than it is heading into most UFC Pay-Per-Views. Outside of the main event, there really isn’t a lot at stake for many of the fighters. Tuivasa and Volkov aren’t getting a title shot or a title eliminator with a win, they are really just looking to hold serve and maintain their position in the heavyweight rankings.

With all that being said, I will go with Khamzat Chimaev. He has the most to gain from this main event, assuming he beats Paulo Costa. With Dricus du Plessis unable to take on Israel Adesanya this weekend, he has fallen out of favor with UFC executives and might not get the next title fight, despite defeating Robert Whittaker soundly in his last fight. That opens the door for Chimaev to step into the challenger role and he is a tough stylistic match up for Adesanya.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 293?

Petela: Sean Strickland. He can be as brash as he wants, but when push comes to shove, he is a good, but not great, fighter. A loss this weekend will clearly show that and he will have to rely on his schtick to get big fights from here on out. It will grow old quickly and he will end up spending the rest of his career in the back half of the rankings trying to remain relevant.

Kuhl: Anton Turkalj. He is on a two-fight losing streak and facing the slight favorite Tyson Pedro on Pedro’s home turf. If he loses, which I suspect he will, that will make three in a row, which is not good for anyone in the UFC.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Kuhl: Did anyone know that John Makdessi was still on the roster? I don’t mean that as a slight, but this will likely be the seventh calendar year in a row where he will only fight once. I honestly did not even know the 38-year-old Canadian was still fighting.

In his 19 UFC fights over the last, almost, 13 years, he has earned one performance bonus, has three stoppage wins, three stoppage losses and has been the distance 13 times, where he is 8-5. Going up against Jamie Mullarkey in Australia is not exactly a great draw of the cards, and a loss has got to put him that much closer to the end of his fighting career.

Petela: Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha. He joined the UFC with only three professional MMA fights, all wins, and has since dropped his two bouts with the promotion. He can’t lose three in a row right out of the gate and expect to stick around. He does have a winnable fight this weekend as he takes on newcomer Charlie Radtke, but, if Blood Diamond doesn’t come away with a win, he will probably be released before the event even concludes.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Jack Jenkins vs. Jose “Chepe” Mariscal. Both of these combatants are coming into this contest on winning streaks. Jenkins has won nine in a row, including both of his fights inside the UFC. Mariscal has won four straight, which includes a unanimous decision win over Trevor Peek in his UFC debut. Jenkins will be buoyed by a home crowd in his native Australia and this one should be a high energy showdown from start to finish. Definitely be sure to tune in to the prelims so you don’t miss this matchup.

Kuhl: Manel Kape was supposed to be facing Kai Kara-France, but Kara-France had to pull out and was replaced by 22-year-old Felipe dos Santos. The Brazilian was supposed to fight on the Contender Series a couple weeks back, but his opponent missed weight, so he made it in on short notice to face Kape.

Kape is a former RIZIN champ, who had a rocky start to his UFC career with back-to-back decision losses, but, since then, has gone on a three-fight winning streak with two knockouts and a unanimous decision. The youngster dos Santos is a hungry up-and-comer, who is 7-0 and looking to stay undefeated. This one could be an exciting fight.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Kuhl: It seems like low-hanging fruit to take Israel Adesanya or Tai Tuivasa in this one, so let’s go with a longshot in Jamie Mullarkey. He is two years removed from his last knockout win, will be fighting on his home turf, and has a favorable match-up in the veteran John Makdessi. If he gets a TKO in this one, as I suspect he will, he should certainly earn a bonus.

Petela: Carlos Ulberg. After gassing out in his UFC debut against Kennedy Nzechukwu, he has looked increasingly more comfortable inside the Octagon. His clash with Da Un Jung should be fireworks from the opening bell, and I expect the kickboxing ace to score a big knockout that gets the fans fired up for the main card and earns Ulberg an extra $50K in his pocket.

Pair this card with…

Petela: This night will be all about the local fighters so grab a bottle of Starward Nova Australian Single Malt whisky. Not only is it wildly delicious and perfectly smooth, it wins awards every year for being some of the best booze The Land Down Under has to offer. Perfect pairing for a fight card chocked full of Australian fighters who come away victorious.

Kuhl: What would go better with Matt’s whisky than some Vegemite on crackers? After all, this card is in Australia, which is where the yeasty spread was invented back in the 1920’s. Sit back, sip on some whisky and enjoy a flavorful bite for a flavorful card. Just don’t drink your whisky out of a shoe.

Fight Kuhl’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW Championship: Israel Adesanya vs. Sean Strickland Adesanya Adesanya
HW: Tai Tuivasa vs. Alexander Volkov Tuivasa Tuivasa
FlyW: Manel Kape vs. Felipe dos Santos Kape Kape
HW: Justin Tafa vs. Austen Lane Tafa Tafa
LHW: Tyson Pedro vs. Anton Turkalj Pedro Pedro
Preliminary Card (ESPNEWS/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Carlos Ulberg vs. Da Un Jung Ulberg Ulberg
FW: Jack Jenkins vs. Jose “Chepe” Mariscal Jenkins Jenkins
LW: Jamie Mullarkey vs. John Makdessi Mullarkey Mullarkey
LW: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Landon Quinones Haqparast Haqparast
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha vs. Charlie Radtke Radtke Blood Diamond
FW: Shane Young vs. Gabriel Miranda Miranda Young
WW: Kevin Jousset vs. Kiefer Crosbie Jousset Crosbie