Is Sean Strickland’s victory over Israel Adesanya the biggest upset in UFC championship history?

The unthinkable has happened. 

Sean Strickland entered UFC 293 as an afterthought as it was expected that he would be nothing more but a victim of a squash match against Israel Adesanya. Instead, what was thought to be one of the biggest mismatches on paper in UFC championship history ended up with Strickland dominating Adesanya over the course of five rounds to become the new middleweight champion.

MORE: Sean Strickland stuns Israel Adesanya for UFC middleweight crown

Now that the shock and awe have somewhat worn off, the discussion regarding where this will rank among the greatest upsets in UFC championship history must begin. 

Is Sean Strickland’s victory over Israel Adesanya the biggest upset in UFC championship history?

In many ways, it is. 

When it comes to the biggest upsets in UFC championship history, there are three upsets that immediately come to mind:

  • Matt Serra def. Georges St-Pierre (TKO 1)
  • Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey (KO 2)
  • Julianna Pena def. Amanda Nunes (Sub 2)

While Serra’s stunning victory over St-Pierre has held the top spot for many years, what Strickland did to Adesanya ends up making a strong case to surpass it. The reason isn’t just because Strickland was a huge betting underdog. Instead, it’s more about how he got the job done. There was no lucky punch like Serra landing on GSP or keeping the fight standing like Holm did to Rousey or dragging the fight to the canvas like Pena did to Nunes. 

Strickland beat Adesanya at his own game and that’s what makes this upset so stunning. In other upsets, there was a punch or kick that altered the fight and led to the shocking finish. This wasn’t that. Strickland beat up Adesanya in the striking department for five rounds. Most assumed that if Strickland was going to have any chance, he’d have to get the fight to the ground. He never even attempted a takedown for the duration of the fight. Instead, Strickland outstruck Adesanya 137 to 94. Even more shocking was how accurate Strickland was, landing 53% of his strikes to Adesanya’s 35%. 

Strickland has never been known as a prolific striker while Adesanya was widely recognized as the best striker in the UFC. Unlike the other upsets, Strickland didn’t find his opponent’s weakness to exploit. He went directly into the lion’s den without a spear and emerged victorious. 

St-Pierre wasn’t known for his striking and Serra caught him with a right hand and never took his foot off the gas until he got the finish. Holm took advantage of Rousey’s belief that she was an exceptional striker and exploited it with exceptional footwork that ended Rousey’s reign with a head kick knockout. Nunes had questionable cardio and some questioned her resiliency when the going got tough and Pena broke her with her pressure that eventually resulted in a submission victory. 

Strickland did no such thing. And that’s what makes the victory all the more shocking. To date, Adesanya’s losses in MMA were to an exceptional striker (Alex Pereira) and a bigger fighter with great wrestling (Jan Blachowicz). It’s safe to say that nobody saw Strickland — who has had a history of keeping up with polished strikers — winning a fight by decision that was fought upright. 

It’s a performance that simply doesn’t make sense and the outcome wasn’t on anybody’s bingo card. A knockout from a lucky punch made sense, albeit farfetched. If Strickland managed to wrestle his way to a decision it would make more sense than what the 32-year-old managed to accomplish in Australia. 

Strickland’s method of victory is as inconceivable as Shaquille O’Neal beating Steph Curry in a three-point shooting contest. 

Sean Strickland may not be UFC champion for a long time but his upset of Israel Adesanya will almost certainly be talked about forever as one of, if not the, biggest upset in UFC championship history. 

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