UFC Fight Night 217 breakdown: Will Sean Strickland rebound on short notice vs. Nassourdine Imavov?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC Fight Night 217.

UFC Fight Night 217 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card streams on ESPN+

 

Nassourdine Imavov (12-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 27 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 75″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Joaquin Buckley(Sept. 3, 2022)

  • Camp: MMA Factory (France)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Regional MMA title
+ 5 knockout victories
+ 4 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ Solid feel for range and movement
+ Works well off of lead hand
^ Hard hooks and uppercuts
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Frames well for knees and elbows
+ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Serviceable wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Deceptive front-choke acumen
+ Grapples well from topside

Sean Strickland (25-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’1″ Age: 31 Weight: 205 lbs. Reach: 76″

  • Last fight: Decision loss to Jared Cannonier(Dec. 17, 2022)

  • Camp: Xtreme Couture (Las Vegas)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ King of the Cage middleweight title
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt
+ 10 KO victories
+ 4 submission wins
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ 19-2 in the middleweight division
+ Long and accurate jab
^ Coming forward or off the backfoot
+ Solid inside of the clinch
^ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Underrated wrestling ability
+ Good transitional grappler
^ From top or bottom
+/- Fighting on one week’s notice

Point of interest: Striking on short notice

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: (R-L) Sean Strickland punches Jared Cannonier in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 17, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The main event in Las Vegas features an impromptu matchup between two middleweights who will be competing at 205 pounds.

Originally slated to face Kelvin Gastelum, [autotag]Nassourdine Imavov[/autotag] will instead meet a completely different styles match in [autotag]Sean Strickland[/autotag].

Fighting to his frame, Stickland does a decent job of staying long with the occasional front teep and a series of stinging jabs. Whether he is circling with his jab off the counter or connecting it to crosses down the centerline, the jab is a shot that Strickland has had a nice feel for since entering the organization.

When feeling in stride, Strickland isn’t afraid to shift stances mid-combination in order to better target fleeing foes. Opposite Krzysztof Jotko, Strickland was able to utilize said shifts to fuel a steady dose of low kicks that were quite effective.

Nevertheless, despite being a fighter who can do his share of countering, Strickland himself is not beyond being countered due to his upright posture and a propensity to sometimes move and follow in straight lines.

Enter Imavov.

Although he appears to possess a natural aptitude for countering, Imavov also has a penchant for piecing together offense off of his lead hand.

From active feints to sneaky hooks off of his jab, Imavov seems to have a solid sense of range that helps fuel his attacks. And when Imavov is able to corral his opposition toward the cage, the Russian-born fighter is not afraid to unleash everything from hooking combinations to flying knees.

Imavov also carries a lot of the defensive and standing swagger that you see from some of his other MMA Factory stablemates, which in turn helps his countering sensibilities. That said, Imavov’s low-handed guard and sometimes-lackadaisical approach to offense have cost him both when coming forward (in the form of counters) and when going backward in extended exchanges (as Imavov’s head will also go upright when retreating in straight lines).

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Sep 3, 2022; Paris, FRANCE; Nassourdine Imavov (red gloves) and Joaquin Buckley (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Accor Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Despite both men primarily making their money standing, no one should be shocked if either person elects to take this party to the floor.

For my money, that man is Imavov.

Even though the fighter from France has fewer attempts on the stat sheet (which can be deceiving given sample sizes), Imavov’s offensive nature often finds himself flowing or crashing into clinch space. Imavov will sometimes parlay this momentum into opportunistic level-changing takedown attempts that either score or allow him to secure his foes along the fence.

Imavov has seemingly absorbed a lot of the muay Thai swagger seen in a lot of Fernand Lopez fighters, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 27-year-old utilize his solid framing game in close in order to land some vicious elbows and knees. I do, however, wonder how much energy Imavov will exert in regard to looking for takedowns in said space given Strickland’s often-overlooked grappling defense.

Sure, former UFC welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, was able to largely dominate Strickland to a decision win; but other than that, Strickland has made a solid account for himself within the wrestling realm since stepping onto the UFC scene.

Offensively, Strickland still shows the ability to hit level-changing doubles when he needs to, as well as helpful “shuck-by’s” from the body lock position that allows him to get an angle on his opponent’s back (which are all good signs considering the damage Strickland sustained in a motorcycle accident a few years back).

Although we haven’t had to see much shot defense from Strickland since his return to the middleweight division, the 31-year-old American has always done a decent job of either separating his opposition’s grips or sprawling and shutting down their takedown attempts outright.

Strickland also appears fairly flexible in scrambles, showing a solid sense of hip awareness and leg dexterity to boot.

Imavov looks like a smooth operator from topside, but I suspect Strickland will have to be fairly compromised before we see the MMA Factory fighter pass his way to another crucifix finish.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

The betting public has been showing a lot of respect for the American’s chances, listing both Imavov and Stickland as a -110 pick’em via Tipico Sportsbook.

My stated bias toward Xtreme Couture fighters aside, I don’t blame the support coming in for Strickland as I’d probably pick him outright if he wasn’t taking this fight on short notice.

Strickland, who is the more experienced and proven product, has a style and durability that can be a difficult ask over five rounds (especially if cardio and championship frames remain unanswered categories for his opponent). And considering that Imavov has shown signs of flagging in past three-round affairs, I’ll be very curious to see what this fight looks like come round four.

That said, it’s ultimately hard to ignore the fact that Strickland – who just went 25 minutes with Jared Cannonier to finish out December – will be making an insane turnaround on just one week’s notice. Due to that fact, this fight has also been moved to 205 pounds to accommodate Strickland (though I suspect that this could arguably benefit Imavov more).

Not only will Imavov be the only fighter who was preparing for five rounds, but he also no longer has to burden his body with what I assume is a massive weight cut.

Unless Imavov mismanages his gas tank in search of an early finish, then I suspect that he can score both at range and inside of the clinch. I’m not sure what kind of condition Strickland is in, so I’ll semi-reluctantly side with Imavov win by decision.

Prediction: Imavov by decision

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie