Paulo Costa: Sean Strickland turned down fight with me, Strickland responds

One-time UFC middleweight title challenger Paulo Costa said Sean Strickland was one of two fights proposed to him – and the former champ made an unexpected move.

In an interview with The Coach and The Casual, Costa said he was recently offered a fight with fellow one-time title challenger Jared Cannonier. He liked the idea of the matchup, but his promoter came calling with another opponent: Strickland.

“I love the idea of fighting Cannonier, and [the UFC] suggested I fight in June,” Costa said. “But then, the UFC came back and said, ‘Paulo, you fight Sean Strickland on June 1. It’s a great fight. It’s a fun fight, even more fun that Cannonier, I think.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened – Strickland said no. Strickland refused to fight me. That’s what the UFC told me. I just have this information from the UFC. I think the fight would be great. I would love to fight him.”

UFC 302 takes place June 1 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

A rep for Strickland didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from MMA Fighting, but the ex-champ posted on Instagram, “I never say no…I say how much.”

Strickland campaigned for a rematch with Dricus du Plessis, who outpointed him at UFC 297 to deny him a first title defense. The previous man to beat Strickland was Cannonier, who won a hotly contested decision over the brash fighter at UFC Vegas 66.

Du Plessis recently polled his fans on whether a rematch with Strickland or a fight with rival and ex-champ Israel Adesanya would be best for his first title defense. Du Plessis and Adesanya have circled each other for several months and were once booked to fight at UFC 293 before a du Plessis injury scrapped the date. Strickland went on to replace du Plessis and capture the title with a massive upset over Adesanya.

With du Plessis at the top of the division, Costa’s title prospects improved measurably. But if Strickland indeed won’t fight him, he may have to take another path back to the title.

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