After a night of surprises and thrilling action, it’s time to acknowledge some of the standout moments from UFC 293. As we honor (and dishonor) the performances of new champion Sean Strickland, Israel Adesanya, Manel Kape, and Charles Radtke
UFC 293 Resurrection Award to Sean Strickland
Dominant champs are always a marvel to witness. Someone lording over their weight class for an extended period of time is an incredible feat on several levels. However, with that dominance usually comes a point where things get dull. Outside of those title defenses, there’s very little excitement as each contest between high-ranked contenders feels aimless. Look no further than Anderson Silva, Demetrious Johnson, and Georges St. Pierre as evidence.
Not only did Sean Strickland shock the world with his upset win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 293, but he has injected a shot of adrenaline into a division that stagnated under the reign of a dominant champion.
As the official UFC middleweight rankings stand as of this writing, Israel Adesanya has victories over half of the top 10. Two of those men, Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori, have come up short against the “Last Stylebender” twice. A year ago when those two fought one another, it all felt like a filler in the schedule as opposed to a pivotal bout between two contenders.
Strickland’s win now allows us to look back at that fight and several others like it in a new light. Can the previously discarded contenders like Whittaker and Vettori solve the puzzle that Strickland presented to Adesanya? Can Derek Brunson turn around a two-fight skid and finally get a championship opportunity? Will Jared Cannonier’s December win over the new king allow him to cut the line forming at the top?
Those are questions that would’ve seemed ridiculous to ask if the oddsmakers who saw Strickland as a massive underdog were right. Let’s just hope the UFC doesn’t follow through on Dana White’s post-fight statement about an immediate rematch. Unlike the rematch that followed Adensanya’s loss to Alex Pereira, it wasn’t competitive, and quite frankly the City Kickboxing standout showed nothing in the Octagon last night to justify it.
Second Greatest of All-Time Award to Israel Adesanya
Perhaps Saturday night should be another lesson to everyone who engages in these debates about the greatest of all time. It seems that whenever a champion shows their ongoing greatness, we can’t help but shoehorn that success into historical context.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Aljamain Sterling was being discussed as potentially the greatest bantamweight of all time. Last year that same conversation was being held about Kamaru Usman at welterweight. When both men were defeated and dethroned the conversations were set aside in favor of the fighters with distance and actual history behind their status.
Adesanya’s loss to Sean Strickland certainly doesn’t invalidate his claim to being on the short list of the best 185-pounders. However, it doesn’t complicate that legacy. Having the crown snatched from him twice within a year during his prime years is a dubious distinction that Anderson Silva, the man whom many thought Adesanya had displaced as the greatest middleweight of all time, does not hold.
If Adesanya can work his way back to being a UFC champion and defend against some of the newer faces in the hierarchy, then we can resume the conversation. But until then, let’s just agree that the “Spider” is the GOAT.
The Judd Apatow Award to Manel Kape and Charles Radtke
In case you were confused as to what you were watching last night, no ESPN+ didn’t suddenly switch the feed from a mixed martial arts event to a some 1990’s era comedy. The gratuitous use of homophobic slurs by Manel Kape and Charles Radtke wasn’t some poor attempt at humor outdated humor. It was just good old-fashioned stupidity at work.
Kape, who is dangerously close to earning a chance at the flyweight belt, put on a great show against late-notice opponent Felipe Dos Santos on the big stage to earn a Fight of the Night bonus. Instead of capitalizing on this goodwill, he instead squandered it with unnecessary hate speech.
Similarly, Radtke earned a win in his promotional debut and made his prelim spotlight memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Jabbing at the crowd after defeating a fighter from the region makes sense. But turning that into a chance to spread bigotry is, at the very least, simpleminded.
As could be expected, both men issued their versions of apologies. Radtke’s read like a glorified PR statement and Kape’s was equally half-hearted and far less sophisticated. The common thread, something that Dana White suggested too, was that emotions were to blame.
Of course, emotions run high in fights for obvious reasons. An engaged crowd, the long buildup, and the violent release all can heighten emotions. But all of those factors shouldn’t heighten our tolerance for hate speech.
Any ignorance of the harm done by using homophobic speech is willful in this day and age. Unlike the era in which comedy movies contained bits of superfluous and casual digs at sexuality, we’re well aware of how wrong it is. It’s time for both men, and anyone supporting their actions and flimsy excuses, to grow up. It’s also way past time for the world leader in MMA to take a meaningful stand for something beyond the almighty dollar.
The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL would not sit back and tolerate their athletes grabbing a microphone and blurting out slurs, especially during an official televised event. The UFC’s willingness to sit back and do nothing is what separates it from the leading organizations in other sports. That’s not a complimentary distinction. Remember that when the promotion is selling its annual rainbow-themed apparel.