Sean Strickland head coach: Israel Adesanya a ‘f****** horrible matchup,’ need to ‘make it ugly’

No one is pretending Sean Strickland will have an easy night when he battles Israel Adesanya in the UFC 293 main event — not even his head coach.

Eric Nicksick, who leads Strickland’s camp for the UFC middleweight title fight in September, definitely understands the difficulty in putting together a strategy to beat Adesanya. Only two people in the UFC have ever handed Adesanya a defeat — one in a light heavyweight fight against Jan Blachowicz, and the other a stunning fifth-round comeback from longtime rival Alex Pereira.

Outside of those fights, Adesanya has largely run roughshod over everyone in the middleweight division, which is why Nicksick is brutally honest in assessing the difficulties of getting Strickland ready.

“I think it’s a f****** horrible matchup,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “Adesanya’s a horrible matchup for a lot of guys.”

That being said, Nicksick knows that just going out and trying to beat Adesanya in a technical striking affair probably isn’t a favorable game plan for anyone in the middleweight division, which is why he said that won’t be Strickland’s approach.

While Strickland possesses dangerous weapons on the feet, Nicksick believes an unconventional approach toward Adesanya is almost certainly the best option.

“Here’s the thing with Sean — there’s a lot of areas I think Adesanya will look to exploit, and there’s things that I see that we need to get better at, but what I love so much about Sean [is] his durability and his toughness,” Nicksick said.

“His ability to get into those deeper rounds and really drag on guys and make the fight gritty and turn the fight into his style of fight, where it gets ugly. He’s in your face, and he makes you fight.”

In many of his best performances, Strickland employs an aggressive, volume-striking attack, constantly marching forward and peppering opponents with punches. It’s a relentless style that can wear on opponents over five rounds, which is how long Strickland has to work against Adesanya.

Nicksick knows Strickland has a lot of work to do between now and September, but as difficult as it may seem to find a weakness in Adesanya’s game, there’s still a way to win.

“That would definitely be key for us — how do we make it our fight?” Nicksick said. “[How do we] make it a backyard brawl, make it ugly? Because Israel, he’s the cream of the crop for a reason, and we definitely have our work cut out for us.”

There’s a lot of footage on Adesanya, of course, so Nicksick will be doing his homework. He doesn’t belittle the struggles Strickland could face if he’s not razor-sharp in the execution of his strategy.

“Israel, he can do everything, let’s not get it twisted,” Nicksick said. “Israel can make that fight anyway he wants to, but Israel is so clean, and he’s so good at his movement and his feint game. I think if you get in a position where you get snake charmed by Israel, and you kind of watch him in front of you, you’re going to get picked apart. I think the matchup is very intriguing, let’s put it like that.

“Israel is obviously the ‘A’ side, and there’s a lot of things we have to get better at for that fight, but I think Sean’s capable of doing those things and making it a gritty kind of knockdown, drag-out fight.”

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