LAS VEGAS -- The UFC finished its event schedule in 2022 on a Sean Strickland loss, and now it has started its event schedule in 2023 on a Sean Strickland win.
Strickland (26-5) defeated France's Nassourdine Imavov (12-4) by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday. It capped off a unique scenario in which Strickland actually headlined back-to-back events for the UFC, which had not happened since 2005. He suffered a decision loss to Jared Cannonier four weeks ago at a UFC Fight Night inside the Apex.
Imavov was originally supposed to face Kelvin Gastelum in a middleweight main event, but Gastelum was forced to withdraw because of injury, and Strickland agreed to replace him in a light heavyweight bout on just five days' notice. Despite the lack of notice, Strickland led the dance for the most part on Saturday.
The judges scored it 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47 for Strickland.
According to UFC Stats, Strickland outlanded Imavov 150-148 in total strikes, but he dictated the pace and direction of the action and landed the harder shots of the two. By the end of the fight, Imavov's left eye sported a visible welt, as Strickland continued to pursue him on the feet. Almost the entire 25-minute fight took place on the feet.
Strickland snapped a two-fight skid with the win. Before losing to Cannonier in December, he suffered a knockout loss to now-champion Alex Pereira. He took damage again on Saturday, but far less than in his previous two fights. He forced Imavov to fight him at a boxing range and kept up a steady repertoire of jabs and front kicks to the body.
Going into the bout, Strickland and Imavov were ranked Nos. 7 and 12, respectively, at middleweight. Even though the fight took place at 205 pounds because of the short notice, it figures to factor into both of their rankings at 185 pounds. Imavov had been on three-fight win streak before the loss.