Sean Strickland is the first to admit that his decision-making can be flawed, but it's that erratic approach to risk management that presents him with a grand opportunity. Strickland challenges Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight championship at UFC 293 on Saturday.
This was never meant to be Strickland's showcase. Dricus du Plessis was anointed top contender after defeating Robert Whittaker at UFC 290. Du Plessis was understandably unable to make an eight-week turnaround due to injury, but Strickland was willing to fight twice in nine weeks. It isn't an attitude Strickland necessarily recommends, but it's on-brand for the chaotic middleweight.
"Sometimes you should say no... but at the end of the day, opportunities never f---ing come when you want them to," Strickland told CBS Sports. "You never wake up and say, 'Today is a great day! I'm ready for some good shit to happen to me in life.'
"Usually, someone you love is f---ing dying or you just got f---ing fired or the IRS is sending you letters. Usually, your life is a complete utter shit show and you'll have a little glimmer of, 'Hey, man. You can risk everything and have this opportunity.' Generally, the people who do that are the people who are successful in life."
Check out the full interview with Sean Strickland below.
Strickland makes his third appearance this year after defeating rising contender Nassourdine Imavov and unheralded prospect Abus Magomedov. Neither fight was particularly appealing to a contender ranked in the UFC's official middleweight top five, but Strickland answered the UFC's call each time. It's familiar territory for Strickland, who agreed to fight Adesanya on four weeks' notice.
A short-notice fight creates many variables: truncated training camps, changes to game plans and a general sense of uncertainty. Strickland says the UFC benefitted more than either fighter did from announcing UFC 293's main event one month out. The circumstances are not ideal, but Xtreme Couture coach Eric Nicksick sees an upside for his pupil.
"It's great when you have an athlete like Sean who just loves to be in the gym anyway," Nicksick told CBS Sports. "So whether you're preparing for Israel Adesanya or helping Brad [Tavares] get ready for his fight, inherently you're getting good work in. So I think just by design, we were fortunate enough to be prepared, no matter how you sliced it.
"In the back of your head, you're like, 'Man, we might be fighting for a title, so let's stay prepared and let's stay ready.' This opportunity only knocks every once in a while. Maybe never. So we have to be ready to open that door."
Check out the full interview with Eric Nicksick below.
Strickland's team is wise to the difficult road ahead of them. Adesanya is generally considered the second-best middleweight champion in UFC history, nipping on the heels of Anderson Silva.
"We're going to need a lot of things go right for us and some things that go wrong for Israel," Nicksick said.
Nicksick has advised Strickland to mix things up and employ wrestling. If the fans are booing on fight night, the challenger is executing his game plan well. The problem is that much like Strickland's approach to matchmaking and media, no one really knows what he will do in the moment. Not even Strickland.
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"I don't know what I'm going to f---ing do. We're just going to see what f---ing happens," Strickland said. "I trained to wrestle, but does that happen? I don't f---ing know. I can't tell the future... Do I listen to Eric all the time? To my own fault, I do not which has whipped me in the ass a few times."
"Who the hell knows? I'll tell you this... If he wants to go out on his shield, then let's go out on the shield," Nicksick said. "It's not what I suggest, but it's also not a video game. I can't control him the way I want to control him. But I can help try to guide him and put him in the best-case scenario to win the fight."