Sean Strickland is back in the win column and Nassourdine Imavov is back to the drawing board. Strickland boxed and brawled his way to victory in a short-notice performance against Imavov at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Imavov started well early. The Frenchman used his footwork to land shots at a safe distance. Strickland forced the action by pressing forward halfway through Round 1 and started connecting in the chaos. Strickland's in-your-face style persisted into the midway point of the second round and served him well, but Imavov won back some momentum down the stretch. The pace slowed in the third, despite a similar output of strikes, as both fighters tried to recover from the stamina dump in Rounds 1 and 2.
Strickland completely took over the fight in Round 4. Imavov's corner informed him that he was losing the fight, but he could not make up ground. Strickland pieced up and bloodied his younger opponent with jabs and crosses in boxing range. Imavov showed a lot of determination in his first main event, fighting fatigue and landing nice elbows and knees on Strickland in Round 5. His late rally would not prove decisive. Strickland won on all three scorecards with a pair of 49-46s and a 48-47.
Strickland, during his post-fight interview, paid tribute toand urged fans to care for forgotten and underappreciated fighters after their careers come to a close.
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Imavov vs. Kelvin Gastelum was the originally intended headliner for UFC Fight Night. Gastelum exited the event due to a mouth injury and Strickland stepped in on four days' notice. Strickland, less than one month after losing to Jared Cannonier in the final UFC fight of 2022, headlined the first card of 2023. The match was contested at light heavyweight due to the short notice change with Strickland weighing 10-pounds more than Imavov. As a consequence, the fight should not have an impact on the middleweight rankings.
Strickland improved to 26-5, bouncing back from the first consecutive losses of his professional career. Imavov (12-4) had his three-fight winning streak snapped following wins against Joaquin Buckley, Edmen Shahbazyan and Ian Heinisch.