UFC Vegas 67: Sean Strickland Starts 2023 with Decision Win Over Nassourdine Imavov

Sean Strickland and Nassourdine Imavov, UFC Vegas 67
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 14: (R-L) Sean Strickland punches Nassourdine Imavov of Russia in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Sean Strickland stepped in on short notice to fight Nassourdine Imavov at UFC Vegas 67 for the first UFC main event of 2023, less than a month after also fighting in the last one of 2022.

Imavov had been scheduled to face Kelvin Gastelum for Imavov’s first main event in the promotion, but Gastelum pulled out on fight week with an injury. As a result, Strickland stepped in and the bout moved from middleweight to light-heavyweight at the last minute to accommodate him. Imavov entered the fight ranked twelfth at middleweight while Strickland was seventh, so a win over Strickland would be huge for the French/Dagestani prospect’s push toward the top of the division.

The first round started with Strickland moving forward in his straight up stance while Imavov bounced in and out of range while throwing left hooks, looking to land the same shot that Alex Pereira knocked Sean out with. The speed of Imavov was noticeable. He landed a big right hand one minute in that made Strickland stumble backwards. They settled down a bit after that, Sean looked to handfight to land punches while Imavov’s explosions were fewer and further between. Midway through the round Strickland landed his biggest punch of the fight, a right hand that hurt Imavov and put him on the back foot. Strickland upped the pressure, looking to finish his compromised opponent, but Imavov did well to stay safe and recover. Strickland upped his work rate after that and when the round came to a close he had stolen the momentum.

The second round started with a slower pace than the first, with Strickland always walking forward, making Imavov uncomfortable. Strickland got mad when Imavov grabbed his glove at one point and so he landed a left hook that rocked the French fighter. Imavov came back with some heat and momentarily turned it into a dirty dogfight, whereas before that in the second round it had become a medium-paced sparring match. Strickland surprised everyone by countering to land a takedown with a trip midway through the round, but Imavov bounced right back to his feet and separated after a short clinch. Strickland’s hooks and overhands began to get wild and awkward as he somewhat went away from his usual straight punches. Imavov landed a right hand that seemed to hurt Sean right before the end of the round.

Strickland calmed down somewhat when the third round started and got back to his straight hitting style. His style was working for him as he pressed Imavov back once again. Imavov shot a takedown from far away halfway through the round but Sean just moved out of the way with ease. The Frenchman’s striking pace was greatly reduced by that point and he was having trouble on the feet. Although he did not dominate the round, he comfortably paced the action in the round and the round seemed to be the clearest to score of the fight so far.

Before entering his first fourth round in his career, Fernand Lopez warned Imavov, his pupil, that they were losing on points, urging him to do more. When the round started though, it was more of the same from the third round. Strickland was able to parry or slip the wild overhands that Imavov occasionally sent his way. Two minutes into the round Sean hurt his opponent with a right hand that staggered Imavov and made him shoot a desperation takedown. Sean defended and clinched up, wearing down the rapidly tiring Nassourdine. Imavov landed a good elbow when they finally broke, but Strickland was not deterred. Imavov continued to mainly throw punches from kicking range, telegraphing his attacks so that Strickland could defend himself with relative ease. Strickland kept his pace consistent and peppered away with decent shots for the rest of the round.

Imavov’s coach once again implored him to go for a finish, saying he had to get a finish to win the fight. Meanwhile, Strickland did not even take a seat between rounds, appearing confident and in control. Imavov landed a few decent right hands to open the final round, however. Sean wore on Imavov some more in the clinch in the second minute of the round but Imavov hit him with an elbow on the break again. Imavov was seeming to get a second wind, as he was having much more success on the feet this round, which forced Strickland to clinch up to smother him. Imavov continued to land elbows in close during those exchanges, though. Imavov landed a big knee to the head of a ducking Strickland in the final minute but Sean stayed on his feet. Strickland did his best to march forward and clinch up until the last ten seconds when he swung wildly with both hands before the final buzzer sounded.

The first main event of 2023 went to the judges and their scorecards gave the win to Sean Strickland, unsurprisingly. He bounced back from a split decision loss at the end of 2022.

Official Result: Sean Strickland def. Nassourdine Imavov by Unanimous Decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)