After an injury to Kelvin Gastelum forced him out of his bout with Nassourdine Imavov on January 14, Sean Strickland steps in on six days’ notice for the first UFC main event of 2023.
Gastelum and Imavov were due to face off in a five-round middleweight main event at the UFC Apex, but now he has been replaced by Strickland, who steps in on just six days’ notice to face the in-form Frenchman, with the bout now set to be contested at light heavyweight, but still over the full five-round duration.
Announcing his withdrawal on social media, Gastelum posted, “I’m extremely disappointed to say the least. This not how I wanted to start 2023. I worked my ass off & battled through a lot of adversity and was ready to put on a hell of a show this weekend. I apologize to Imavov, his camp as well as @ufc and all the fans.”
It now means that No. 12-ranked Imavov faces the No. 7-ranked middleweight contender with a chance to move up the rankings, rather than having to defend his position from Gastelum, who was listed one spot below Imavov in the official list.
Imavov’s UFC career started relatively quietly, with a routine unanimous decision win over Contender Series alum Jordan Williams followed by a unanimous decision defeat to Phil Hawes.
But, since that bout, Imavov hit form, and heads into the headliner in Las Vegas looking strong.
He finished teak-tough campaigner Ian Heinisch, then fellow 185-pound prospect Edmen Shahbazyan, both by second-round TKO. Then, in his most recent outing, he outpointed power striker Joaquin Buckley in Paris.
It means he heads into Saturday night’s main event on a three-fight win streak, and a run of form that has seen him drop to just one defeat from his last 10 outings.
Strickland, meanwhile, is looking to right the ship after suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
The American was on a six-fight tear before being knocked out by Alex Pereira in a title eliminator bout at UFC 276 in July 2022. He then returned to the Octagon and dropped a split-decision verdict to Jared Cannonier in December.
Now, after competing on the last UFC event of 2022, Strickland returns to the Octagon for the first UFC event of 2023 and will step in on short notice to face Imavov, and will be looking to reassert himself on the division with a strong performance to get back into the win column and reposition himself for a run at a title shot – and a potential rematch with new champ Pereira – later this year.
Their bout tops a card that also features another ranked contender looking to bounce back into form to start the year. Featherweight Dan Ige saw a six-fight win streak snapped by Calvin Kattar in July 2020, and has gone 1-3 since.
Ige is currently on a three-fight skid after losing unanimous decisions to Chan Sung Jung, Josh Emmett and Movsar Evloev, and will be desperate to get back into the win column when he takes on Damon Jackson in the co-headliner on Saturday night.
Jackson is 5-1 in his second stint with the UFC and heads into the bout with Ige riding a four-fight win streak. “Action” has his sights set on a spot in the featherweight Top 15, and sees victory over No. 13-ranked Ige as the perfect springboard to make that jump to contender status.
The card also features a women’s bantamweight battle between rival contenders Ketlen Vieira and Raquel Pennington, with both fighters looking to claim the sort of decisive victory that could propel them toward a shot at the title.
And on a busy preliminary card, the bantamweight bout between Mateus Mendonca and Javid Basharat leaps off the page.
Both graduates from Dana White’s Contender Series, Mendonca and Basharat both arrive in Las Vegas with undefeated records. Mendonca is making his Octagon debut, and faces a man who has already picked up a pair of solid unanimous decision victories on the big stage.
UFC Vegas 67: Fight Card
- Nassourdine Imavov vs. Sean Strickland
- Dan Ige vs. Damon Jackson
- Punahele Soriano vs. Roman Kopylov
- Ketlen Vieira vs. Raquel Pennington
- Umar Nurmagomedov vs. Raoni Barcelos
- Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Claudio Ribeiro
- Mateusz Rebecki vs. Nick Fiore
- Javid Basharat vs. Mateus Mendonca
- Allan Nascimento vs. Carlos Hernandez
- Daniel Argueta vs. Isaac Dulgarian
- Jimmy Flick vs. Charles Johnson
- Priscila Cachoeira vs. Sijara Eubanks