A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2023. In the coming days, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
When it comes to fighters who made a giant leap in 2023, one name stands out above the rest. With a 3-0 record in 2023, including a dominant title-winning performance, Sean Strickland takes home the 2023 Combat Press Male Fighter of the Year award.
Entering the year, Strickland had lost two fights in a row, and he turned around just a month after his last loss to score his first win of the new calendar year by defeating Nassourdine Imavov by unanimous decision at UFC Vegas 67 on Jan. 14. Six months later, he would derail the hype train of Abus Magomedov at UFC Vegas 76, weathering an early storm and then putting on a pace that made his Dagestani opponent wilt under the pressure. That performance perfectly encapsulated what made Sean Strickland great. He was tough enough to get through a hard-hitting opponent, smart enough not to take unnecessary risks, had the cardio to outlast his foe, and was talented enough to execute the plan. There is no question that the UFC brass took notice after that showcase, which set him up for the biggest fight of his career, a title shot against all-time great Israel Adesanya.
Headlining a pay-per-view for the first time in his career, Strickland didn’t let the moment get to him, and he was as brash as ever in the lead-up to his UFC 293 showdown with the middleweight champion. Most fans and pundits alike didn’t give him a chance, with one moron going so far as to say that his fight against Adesanya wouldn’t even be interesting. He shut those critics up in a big way by dominating “The Last Stylebender” for the entire 25 minutes, and nearly scoring a TKO in the last few seconds of the first round.
After the fight, he gave an emotional post-fight speech that likely gained him a ton of fans, but it was the totality of his 2023, culminating in the decisive win over Adesanya that earns him the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Male Fighter of the Year.
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