Strickland Lost ‘The Optics Battle’ At UFC 297

Xtreme Couture’s head coach Eric Nicksick had a hell of a 2023. He lead Francis Ngannou to a competitive split decision loss against Tyson Fury in boxing, and then helped Sean Strickland defeat Israel Adesanya to capture the UFC middleweight championship.

2024 is off to a rough start, though: Strickland just lost the belt in his first title defense against Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 297. It was a close fight: a split decision that Sean came within one point on one scorecard of winning. In Nicksick’s mind, his student should have won.

“The fight was close,” he wrote in an Instagram post Sunday morning. “Close fights mean we needed to win the optics battle. Live, I had us winning 1, 2, and 5, but all that matters are the three [judges] cage side. I’ll watch it again, to see where we / I can be better. Much love to everyone who supported us. On to the next!”

When Nicksick is talking about optics, he’s talking about the perception of the fight versus the actual substance of the fight. So even though he saw Strickland winning the technical battle, he knew Du Plessis was probably swaying the judges with his more explosive attacks and forward movement. That gusher on Sean’s head (from a headbutt?) probably didn’t help either.

The two judges that scored the fight for Du Plessis had Strickland winning just rounds 1 and 5. Dissenting judge Sal D’Amato had Strickland winning round 3 as well. None of them handed round 2 to Strickland, despite it being the round where his jab started to seal up the eye of “DDP.”

Nicksick also had some kind words for Du Plessis and his team.

“I never met a more classy opposing fighter during fight week, along with the skills to back it up,” he wrote. “I’m happy for you, your team, and your country, you made them proud.”

Du Plessis showed up in the comments to reply “Thank you so much for the kind words coach, you and the team are incredible and it was an honor to battle the best in the business. Thank you for the war and the true warrior like respect before and after the war.”

It’s somewhat surprising to see Strickland vs. Du Plessis end with such a show of mutual admiration and appreciation, considering the two were brawling in public a mere month ago. That’s the healing power of mixed martial arts on display. After five hard rounds, there’s nothing much left but respect.

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