UFC 293 expert picks and best bets: How can Israel Adesanya make Sean Strickland pay for his aggression?ESPN PLUS $ MATERIAL
Israel Adesanya makes the first title defense of his second reign as UFC middleweight champion when he takes on the challenge of Sean Strickland in the main event at UFC 293 in Sydney on Saturday (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV, with prelims at 8 p.m. on ESPNEWS and ESPN+, early prelims at 6:30 on ESPN+).
Adesanya, ranked No. 4 in ESPN's pound-for-pound men's rankings, regained the 185-pound belt in April with a knockout of Alex Pereira. Strickland, ESPN's No. 8 middleweight, has won two fights in a row and eight of his past 10.
Brett Okamoto spoke to former UFC lightweight and current broadcast analyst Din Thomas to get his perspective on the main event. ESPN's betting experts Reed Kuhn and Ian Parker add their insights and analysis on the main event and other intriguing bets they like on the card.
Editor's note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Middleweight championship: Israel Adesanya vs. Sean Strickland
Din Thomas, former UFC lightweight and current broadcast analyst
Tale Of The Tape
|Last fight||April 8, 2023||July 1, 2023|
How Strickland wins: Constant pressure and being ready to check leg kicks. That's going to be the biggest thing for him. Strickland will go forward, but he needs to catch the leg kicks because if his leg is compromised, it compromises his defense and ability to win the fight. I think Sean can keep it close, but he has to start with checking kicks. If he's walking forward but getting his legs banged up the whole time, it will immobilize him.
X factor: You would think it would be the ground, where Strickland holds an advantage, but I don't think that's it. The X factor is Sean's defense. How close can he keep this fight? He can make guys fight sloppily, and if he can keep the fight close, he can win some moments. How good is his defense -- not getting hit with big shots so that he can potentially steal some rounds?
Prediction: I think Izzy will find that big shot. He wins by decision, but he plays with Sean a little and makes it look easy.
UFC 293: Adesanya Vs. Strickland�
|Stand-up striking offense||Adesanya||Strickland|
|Total knockdown ratio (Knockdowns/times knocked down)||13:0||5:3|
|Distance knockdown rate||4.0%||0.7%|
|Head jab accuracy||35%||38%|
|Head power accuracy||34%||34%|
|Standup strike ratio (Attempted vs. opp. attempted)||1.2||1.2|
|Wrestling and grappling|
|TD attempts per min standing/clinch||0.03||0.12|
|Advances per takedown/top control||1.7||0.7|
|Opponent takedown attempts||86||50|
|Share of ground time in control||36%||60%|
|Submission attempts per trip to ground||0.15||0.15|
|Table compiled by Reed Kuhn|
Neither fighter is especially busy on the ground, so expect this fight to be contested at range on the feet for long stretches. Strickland is more likely to advance and pursue, meaning Adesanya can choose when to lean into his counters. Adesanya has a notable size advantage, so it's only a matter of time before he lands more damage than Strickland can handle.
Parker: Adesanya to win inside the distance (-105). Strickland is a very solid fighter in every aspect of the game. However, his ego tends to get the best of him, and I don't see anything being different this time. Look for Strickland to maybe attempt to wrestle early on (where he would have the advantage). But if his takedown attempts get stuffed, Strickland will be in for a world of hurt, as I expect Adesanya to have a field day on the feet. Strickland is the type of fighter who makes his opponents fight him -- that is, he comes forward and puts on pressure. When this happens to Adesanya, though, we get the best version of him. At some point, Adesanya's striking will be too much for Strickland, and the fight will end in Round 3 or 4.
Best bets on the rest of the card
Heavyweight: Tai Tuivasa vs. Alexander VolkovParker: Tuivasa to win (+205). Volkov is a seasoned and skilled fighter, but this might be the type of matchup that best suits the style of Tuivasa, who won't be worried about getting knocked out. Volkov is very technical and likes to strike from a distance. When he gets pressured and hit, he tends to fold or not do the best job recovering. If Tuivasa can get inside and land shots early and often, he can wear down Volkov like he did Derrick Lewis and eventually get the KO. Tuivasa is from Sydney, and this will be the type of environment and matchup in which he has thrived. I think he has one more in him.
Kuhn: Volkov to win (-250). Betting against Tuivasa in his hometown makes me squeamish, but a close look at his record reveals a binary level of competition highly relevant to this matchup. When he fights mediocre strikers, he looks like a world-beater, yet he gets stopped whenever he faces top talent. Volkov has the exact skill set to handle this challenge. He is the far more accurate striker, despite also using a much higher pace, and he has much better defensive avoidance. That's critical at heavyweight. Yes, Tuivasa has more power in his hands and, therefore, a puncher's chance. However, this will be an uphill battle for him against someone ideally suited to cut through his poor defense from long distance.
Men's flyweight: Manel Kape vs. Felipe dos SantosParker: Kape to win by TKO/KO. Dos Santos was supposed to fight on "Dana White's Contender Series" just a few weeks ago, but his opponent missed weight. Now he is being thrown right into the fire, taking on one of the best in the division. Kape is on a three-fight winning streak, with two of those victories coming by TKO/KO. I believe we shall see another highlight-reel knockout from Kape.
Heavyweight: Justin Tafa vs. Austen Lane
Parker: Tafa to win (-220). This is a rematch of a June fight that ended in a no contest after Lane accidentally poked Tafa in the eye just 29 seconds in. Now they're back, and this should be fun for as long as it lasts. When you think of Tafa, you think knockout. He has tremendous power in his hands. But what impresses me the most is his patience in working toward a KO instead of forcing it. Lane is a good athlete, but it stops there. Tafa will have the advantage across the board, and I expect him to catch Lane and put him to sleep.
Lightweight: Jamie Mullarkey vs. John MakdessiKuhn: Fight goes over 2.5 rounds (-215), fight goes the distance, lean Mullarkey to win (-260). This matchup will play out as a contrast of style and size. Makdessi often appears undersized and outranged by opponents, but his technical striking keeps him in any fight, even against much larger opponents. And that's why Mullarkey is likely to change levels early. His chin and defensive avoidance create apparent vulnerabilities because, while Makdessi doesn't land a high volume of strikes, the shots are well placed when he does land.
Nearly a decade of age differential (Mullarkey is 29, Makdessi 38) and a considerable reach advantage for Mullarkey will help keep him out of trouble while this remains standing. But Mullarkey spends more time on the ground controlling opponents than all but one fighter on this card, and he has the highest clinch control. Makdessi's strong takedown defense means that if Mullarkey doesn't convert, we'll see clinching and more attempts, leaning against the cage whenever he can't get his opponent down. All this adds up to what might be a boring fight.