Skeptics will often undermine a fighter in the aftermath of an unexpected loss. There were certainly fans dismissing Israel Adesanya and head coach Eugene Bareman following Adesanya's failed UFC middleweight title defense against Sean Strickland at UFC 293. But Eric Nicksick, Strickland's coach at Xtreme Couture, says Adesanya's demise was by the new champion's design.
Strickland shockingly dropped Adesanya in Round 1 and generally muted the defending champ's offense en route to a well-earned upset decision win. Afterwards, Adesanya apparently credited Nicksick for stopping his offense before it could start.
"I had a good talk with Izzy backstage after the fight was over," Nicksick told "Morning Kombat" host Luke Thomas on Tuesday. "Izzy came up to me and said, 'You saved that man's life.' I was like, 'Oh yeah, how so?' He goes, 'You kept calling out my reads.' And I said, 'Yeah because I saw what you were setting up.'
"One of those things was the southpaw drop step. Izzy from orthodox would drop back into southpaw. He would throw his southpaw cross at Sean's right hand, and Sean would parry it down. I yell to Sean, 'Bro, he's going to same-side head kick you! It's going to come right behind it.'"
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Nicksick came to the defense of City Kickboxing coach Bareman after Adesanya's lifeless performance. Not only has Bareman earned his status as a premier coach, but invalidating Adesanya and his team also undermines the success of team Strickland.
"Once we started to disrupt the timing and rhythm, I felt we had Izzy where we wanted him," Nicksick said. "You could say he was stuck in the mud, but he was stuck in the mud for a reason. Because we threw his ass in the f---ing mud."
Adesanya is considered one of the best pure strikers in mixed martial arts history. Neutralizing those offensive threats, particularly threats that Strickland was susceptible to, was the ethos of their four-week training camp.
"The biggest thing that we knew going into this fight that we were going to need to shut down were the calf kicks," Nicksick said. "That was my biggest concern due to stance alone. If I'm fighting Sean, I know what I'm doing. I know our holes. So as a coach, you have to reverse engineer. You have to go, 'Where are they going to exploit us? We have to cover these holes up.' If we can do that, it will be downhill from there [for the opponent.]
"We had to go to the drawing board and look at different ideas. We had about five different theories on how we were going to shut down that calf kick... What are we using on our foot for a calf kick? It's mostly the metatarsals and the curve of your ankle. If we can check that once or twice, it will hurt the guy throwing that kick. So let's make this a deterrent.
"Sure as shit, that's what he did. Sean was able to check one or two and then crowd the space again."
Strickland entered UFC 293 as a significant +450 underdog against Adesanya, the latter of whom was a betting favorite at more than -700. Many analysts assessed that Strickland had little more than a puncher's chance. Yet Strickland, equipped with an unorthodox style and one of MMA's best coaches, proved to be the better man over the long-haul that evening.