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Israel Adesanya: UFC worried about Sean Strickland ‘embarrassing the company’ before booking UFC 293 headliner

UFC 290: Whittaker v Du Plessis
Israel Adesanya
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Israel Adesanya meets Sean Strickland in Australia, but the matchup didn’t happen without some delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations, according to the champion.

“The Last Stylebender” defends the UFC middleweight title against Strickland in the main event of UFC 293 on Sept. 10. Ahead of that matchup, Adesanya was joined by coach Eugene Bareman for a media scrum at their gym in New Zealand, where they discussed the circumstances surrounding the fight.

Strickland has developed a reputation for off-the-cuff and offensive comments, earning him criticism from the media and also endearing him to a section of the MMA fan base. His fight with Adesanya was made official just a month away from the upcoming Australia pay-per-view, and Adesanya was coy when asked why an announcement wasn’t made earlier.

“It wasn’t about him,” Adesanya said. “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 beaten all the top 5, some of them twice. So you can’t punish us for being great, so yeah, I pushed for him to get the fight.

“He’s an idiot. 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.”

Inside the cage, Strickland has delivered more often than not, winning seven of nine fights since moving up from the welterweight division. He has won back-to-back fights heading into his title opportunity and holds notable wins over Nassourdine Imavov, Jack Hermansson, Uriah Hall, Krzysztof Jotko, and Brendan Allen, among others.

Adesanya hinted that Strickland’s persona was an obstacle in making the fight happen.

“Like I said, he’s an idiot, and the UFC don’t want him embarrassing the company,” Adesanya said. “But yeah, that’s all I’ll say about that. He should thank me. He should really thank me for actually making him get the fight. [Bareman] knows what happened behind the scenes. I pushed for it, and I’m glad the UFC trusted me to listen to me.”

Another reason that Strickland’s booking came as a surprise to some is that Adesanya rival Dricus Du Plessis has long been considered the most compelling option to face Adesanya next. Adesanya and Du Plessis have butted heads over their African heritage (Adesanya is a native Nigerian who lives in New Zealand, which has led South Africa’s Du Plessis to criticize Adesanya for not fighting out of his home continent).

However, a lingering foot injury prevented Du Plessis from making a quick turnaround following a win over former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker this past July, removing him from the equation.

Adesanya still wants to fight Du Plessis, but he isn’t guaranteeing anything.

“You only get one shot,” he said. “You don’t take it, look, you saw my last fight, two weeks out right there on that spot. I f***** my leg up badly and [Bareman] knows I could have pulled out of that fight if I wanted to, but that was never a thought in my mind. We’re built different at this gym.”

“All it takes a couple of good wins and he’s bumped out of his position, so he can’t sit comfortably,” Bareman added. “He shouldn’t be surprised if he has to do another fight before he gets a title shot because he didn’t go, so we’ll see what happens. Obviously, we’re keen to fight him, but we don’t know whether that’s going to happen with the landscape, and the environment, and hopefully he’s still in a position where he can fight us next.”

Watch Adesanya’s New Zealand media scrum below, courtesy of It’s Time For Sports.

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