The first UFC card of 2023 underwent a major change Monday.
Sean Strickland has stepped up on short notice and will take on Imavov. The bout will remain five rounds, but now is to be contested a weight class above, at light heavyweight.
Two people with knowledge of the change confirmed it Monday to MMA Junkie after an initial report by ESPN. The UFC made the change officially minutes thereafter.
Imavov (12-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC), a main training partner of former UFC interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane, has won three fights in a row. After he stopped Heinisch in July, the 25-year-old Dagestan-born, France-based fighter scored a second-round TKO of fellow prospect Edmen Shahbazyan at UFC 268 in November. Imavov most recently defeated Joaquin Buckley at UFC Fight Night 209 in September.
Strickland (25-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC) is coming off a close decision loss to Jared Cannonier in December in the main event of UFC Fight Night 216. He’s now on a two-fight losing streak, as he was knocked out by now UFC middleweight champion Alex Pereira in July. Prior to the pair of defeats, Strickland was on a six-fight wining streak.
With the change, the UFC Fight Night 217 lineup includes: