First man to knock out Sean Strickland, Elizeu Zaleski talks Israel Adesanya’s wrong strategy

Not many people picked Sean Strickland to beat Israel Adesanya ahead of his massive upset victory at UFC 293. But Elizeu Zaleski, the first man to knock him out in MMA, thought it was possible.

Zaleski, who stopped then-welterweight Strickland at UFC 224 in 2018, said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that Adesanya paid the price for choosing the only strategy that wouldn’t work against someone like Strickland.

“I saw a very simple game,” Zaleski said. “Adesanya knocks people out with counters, not attacking. His attacks are to score points. He’s dangerous when he’s retreating, we saw that against [Alex Pereira] ‘Poatan.’ And if you go forward against Strickland, that’s exactly what he wants, that’s what he does best.

“[Adesanya] didn’t work with angles, he didn’t throw hooks. He simply fought where [Strickland] is good at. There were many ways [to win] and one thing he shouldn’t do, and that’s exactly what he did, he fought where [Strickland] is good.”

Zaleski joked that “it’s always good to see your kids growing up and taking over the world,” adding that, “I cheer for the guys I fight, because that ends up elevating me as well. I was rooting for him to win this fight and it all worked well for him.”

The Brazilian fighter understands why some people would still have Strickland as the underdog on an eventual rematch with Adesanya despite his dominating victory in Sydney, but said he would favor the American against many of the best middleweights in the UFC, such as Robert Whittaker.

Yet Zaleski added the winner of Paulo Costa vs. Khamzat Chimaev, which goes down at UFC 294 on Oct. 21, could emerge as a matchup nightmare for Strickland. In the end, he said, Strickland’s potential for a long reign in the 185-pound class “depends on who he fights next.”

“I think the most dangerous opponent for Strickland is ‘Borrachinha,’” he said, referring to one-time title challenger Costa. “Strickland has great wrestling, good takedown defense and good attacks. ‘Borrachinha’s’ attacks are more dangerous for him, because he works more with angles and variations, so it’s trickier. Chimaev just rushes forward and go for the legs. If you kill his heart, he doesn’t have much of a weapon to attack.”