Sean Strickland won. He got his win bonus. He’ll probably jump from No. 7 to 6 in the middleweight rankings. He’s now on a six-fight winning streak
But beyond that, it was mostly blah.
His split decision victory Saturday over Jack Hermansson in the main event of UFC Vegas 47 at Apex was a largely forgettable affair. Strickland apologized to the crowd in his post-fight interview in the Octagon, saying, “I was a pansy.”
Inexplicably, the fight was scored a split decision. Sal D’Amato had Hermansson, 48-47, while judges Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo each had Strickland, 49-46. Yahoo Sports had Strickland, 49-46.
No way did Hermansson win that fight, but it was also not the classic that some had envisioned.
The talk was much better than the fight itself.
Not every fight is going to be a wild toe-to-toe slugfest, but neither man seemed willing to take risks that could have turned into a statement-making win.
Both of them needed that given their positioning and the elite talents above them in the middleweight division. Strickland, who said he got caught worrying about his win bonus, called out the winner of next week’s title bout at UFC 271 in Houston between champion Israel Adesanya and ex-champ Robert Whittaker.
It was, though, a half-hearted call-out at best.
A win in the UFC over a top-6 opponent is significant, and it’s not like Strickland was abysmal. Strickland landed 46 percent of his significant strikes, 153 of 330, according to UFC Stats, and stuffed all eight of Hermansson’s takedown attempts.
Hermansson certainly didn’t distinguish himself or fight with much urgency, either, so it was a two-way street.
But Strickland had begun to build momentum with his five consecutive wins and his frequently outrageous interviews.
He kept it up after the fight, thanking the fans for their support.
“Without you fans, I’d be a piece of s*** somewhere,” Strickland said. “Now, I’m a piece of s*** with money.”
That generated a few chuckles, but what would have done him a lot more was pushing the pace and putting more of a beating on Hermansson.
But he said in talking to fans he started to convince himself he could get a title shot with a win, and he for some reason became preoccupied with not getting caught and preserving his win bonus.
In the final part of the final round, he opened it up and was letting Hermansson have it, and it was the kind of effort he needed for all 25 minutes. The fans were engaged at that point more than at any point in the match.
“You know what it is, I let the pressure get the best of me, man,” Strickland said when quizzed about his cautious style afterward.
But now he finds himself in an odd spot in the division. Assuming he switches places with Hermansson in the rankings, he’ll be No. 6, with Adesanya the champion and Whittaker, Marvin Vettori, Jared Cannonier, Derek Brunson and Paulo Costa ahead of him.
Who’s next for Sean Strickland?
Adesanya is defending against Whittaker and Cannonier is fighting Brunson on the UFC 271 undercard. Given Strickland’s relatively lackluster performance Saturday and his lack of marquee wins on his résumé, he’s also certainly not going to be the next title challenger.
That’s likely to be the winner of the Cannonier-Brunson fight. So that would leave Strickland with the possibility of fighting either the title fight loser, the Cannonier-Brunson loser, Vettori or Costa.
Costa has had significant weight issues and his days at middleweight may well be over. Vettori would be a good opponent for Strickland, but would Vettori at No. 2 have interest in fighting the sixth-ranked guy in the division? That’s debatable, but it’s hard to see Vettori thrilled with that kind of a match.
Strickland said he’s close with Vettori and would prefer not to fight him. When Vettori fought Costa, Costa was having great issues making weight and the fight was moved from middleweight to light heavyweight.
Strickland said Saturday that the UFC offered him the fight on one-day notice to step in for Costa.
“They asked me whenever Costa was having too much wine and cookies, they offered me a lot of money to take that fight,” Strickland said. “I called Marvin and told him they’d offered me a lot of f***ing money and that I have to say yes. And Marvin said, ‘I can’t blame you for saying yes.’ So in that situation I said yes, but in a normal situation, I’d be really uncomfortable fighting him.”
Strickland talked a lot in the build-up to the fight about wanting to kill someone in the Octagon. But he barely threw enough punches to raise welts on Hermansson’s face, let alone to convince the UFC brass to vault him over several other contenders.
He’s a talent and a character, and he’s not going away soon. If he doesn’t get a title shot next, he’s not concerned with fighting anyone below him in the rankings.
He is happy to keep piling up the checks while he waits on his date with destiny.
“I don’t mind waiting,” Strickland said. “I’m about to be 31 and I have a lot of years left in me. Taking those fights means more money, so let’s rack it up.