Eric Nicksick has received plenty of accolades in his career, but a compliment from Israel Adesanya will stick with him for long time.
Adesanya and Nicksick were on opposite ends of the octagon at UFC 293, with Nicksick cornering Sean Strickland en route to Strickland’s unanimous decision win in the middleweight championship main event. It was one of the most unexpected outcomes in recent memory, not just because of the long odds Strickland faced, but the manner in which he convincingly out-struck Adesanya for five rounds.
Afterward, Nicksick and Adesanya’s team showed each other respect, with Adesanya praising Nicksick for astutely breaking down his techniques.
“Izzy and I are cool,” Nicksick said on The MMA Hour. “I have zero issues with this man, nothing but respect, nothing but respect for his team. It was nice to have a moment with him because all fight week long, you know how the tension is between teams and fights and fighters and this and that. I don’t partake in any of that stuff, that’s none of my business. I’m not trying to sell the fight. I’m trying to execute the name in front of me, competitively, I’m just trying to get a win. So him coming over, giving me a hug, we talked about Francis for a minute, ‘I’ll see you in Saudi.’
“That was the first thing he actually said to me. He said, ‘You saved that man’s life.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, how so?’ He was like, ‘You kept calling out my reads, man. I heard you. Every time I would set something up, I heard you yelling. I was like, ‘I appreciate that, man,’ because he’s a wizard, he really is. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve learned a ton by studying this man over the years. He’s allowed me to adapt, not only offensively but he’s helped my mind’s eye defensively as well. I love Izzy, I love his style, he’s one of the best to ever do it, so it was nice to have that moment with him.”
Adesanya tried for the first defense of his second UFC title reign after winning the belt back from rival Alex Pereira this past April. He successfully defended his championship five consecutive times in his first run, which included wins over Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, and Paulo Costa.
Much of Adesanya’s time at the top was marked by his dazzling striking, which was rarely on display against Strickland. It was Nicksick who made sure that his fighter’s performance didn’t fall off after a strong first round in which he nearly finished Adesanya.
In Nicksick’s eyes, Strickland could have ended up as just another Adesanya highlight if he wasn’t careful.
“He got snake charmed,” Nicksick said of Strickland in the second round. “He got mesmerized by watching Izzy. He got hypnotized by the feint game, by Israel Adesanya in front of him. Yeah, he probably had a little bit of an adrenaline dump. I didn’t even get out of my seat. When the whole thing happened, I was like, one of two things is going to happen: It’s a finish and then I can celebrate or No. 2, the round’s going to be over and I’ve got very important information for him that I cannot bypass. Because Izzy was setting him up and I saw. I saw the setup. I can’t lose sight of the emotions right now because if I don’t tell him this, Izzy is going to knock him out. I was worried.
“So I actually looked over, I was laughing, because I looked over at [the broadcasting team] Megan [Olivi] and [Jon] Anik and Laura [Sanko] and ‘DC’ [Daniel Cormier] and I was like this, I was watching them, I was just watching their reactions. I was giggling the whole time. If it’s over, it’s over, there’s nothing else for me to do. He can’t hear me anyway. But in my mind, I need to tell him that Izzy is setting him up for a same-side head kick out of southpaw.”
Nicksick says one key adjustment was telling Strickland to not just parry Adesanya’s southpaw attacks, because he noticed Strickland’s arm repeatedly dropping, which would leave him open to a high kick. He instructed Strickland to focus on hand-fighting and counter-punching during those sequences to break Adesanya’s rhythm.
Strickland’s wrestling also factored into their preparation for Adesanya, but Nicksick explained that it never materialized during the fight because it proved unnecessary.
“I felt like we had to mix up the race a little bit,” Nicksick said. “It wasn’t like take this guy down and hold him down. That was not the game plan. It was to create mismatches in his rhythm. Izzy’s a rhythm fighter and as you noticed, we had four or five different ways to disrupt the rhythm.
“What do I mean by that? Well, Izzy’s feint game is beautiful, and a lot of his strikes are set up off of his feints. So if we can disrupt the conductor to the orchestra, and take the conductor stick out of his hand, because he’s trying to put instruments where they belong, but if we can disrupt his timing and his rhythm, then that’s where we’re kind of able to put the ball in our court.”