Israel Adesanya says Sean Strickland is only getting a shot at the UFC middleweight title because Adesanya himself lobbied the UFC hard for it.
All signs were pointing towards a clash between Adesanya and surging South African contender Dricus du Plessis, but when it emerged that “Stillknocks” needed to address an injury issue that would have prevented him from facing “Stylebender” at UFC 293 in Sydney in September, Adesanya immediately pivoted to the division’s other notable contender.
Strickland and Adesanya have exchanged words on stage before, as part of the pre-fight press conference for at UFC 276 during UFC International Fight Week in 2022, and a potential bout was an underlying storyline heading into that weekend. But Strickland’s knockout loss to future champion Alex Pereira put that topic on hold.
Strickland then dropped a split decision to Jared Cannonier the following December, but has since bounced back to form with a decision win over French contender Nassourdine Imavov and a second-round TKO of German prospect Abus Magomedov in January and July, respectively.
Now, with du Plessis out of the immediate title picture, Strickland has been booked to face Adesanya, and will challenge the Nigerian-born New Zealander in the main event in Australia on September 10.
Speaking to It’s Time For Sports, Adesanya said it was his lobbying, rather than Strickland’s recent form, that got the American his shot at the title.
“It wasn’t about him, really,” Adesanya stated.
“He should thank me for actually making the fight happen, because without me, he wouldn’t have actually got the fight. I pushed for him to get the fight because he was the next logical guy.
“I’ve beat all the top five, some of them twice, so you can’t punish us for being great. I pushed for him to get the fight. He’s an idiot, but I can’t say too much about that. He’s an idiot, so he just has to behave himself and actually show up and just fight.”
Adesanya captured the undisputed middleweight title in October with his knockout of Robert Whittaker unifying the 185-pound belts. He then defended the middleweight title five times in just over three years before losing his belt to Alex Pereira.
Adesanya avenged his TKO loss in the rematch with a stunning knockout victory at UFC 287, and will look to register the first defense of his second title reign in Sydney.
And, ahead of the matchup, he said that his latest opponent should be happy for the opportunity, and grateful to Adesanya for pitching so hard for the bout.
“Like I said, he’s an idiot and, you know, the UFC don’t want him embarrassing the company. But yeah, that’s all I’ll say about that, so he should thank me,” he said.
“He should really thank me for actually making him get the fight. I pushed for it. He (coach Eugene Bareman) knows what happened behind the scenes, and I pushed for it, and I’m glad the UFC trusted me to listen to me.”