Exclusive: Eric Nicksick Reveals Timeline for Sean Strickland’s First UFC Title Defense, Comments on Du Plessis’ Status as No. 1 Contender

Strickland's coach, Eric Nicksick, suggested that his fighter could be back inside the Octagon as early as December

Eric Nicksick
Courtesy of @UFCNews on X

Renowned mixed martial arts coach Eric Nicksick knew that for Sean Strickland to have a chance against Israel Adesanya at UFC, they would have to treat the fight like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. 

Needless to say, the game plan paid off. As far as who masterminded the game plan changes depending on who you’re talking to, but the result remains the same. Sean Strickland is the new UFC middleweight world champion. Stepping into the Octagon as a massive 7-to-1 underdog, Strickland imposed his will and made one of the best strikers in the world look like an amateur. 

Following the victory, Strickland’s coach, Eric Nicksick, spoke with James Lynch in a MiddleEasy exclusive interview to discuss their game plan going into the contest and how they managed to execute it to perfection over the course of the 25-minute affair. 

“That was Sean’s style. Sean’s game plan. That wasn’t necessarily my game plan,” Nicksick revealed. “Where my fingerprints were on this fight was the cage cutting. Not chasing. We’re not gonna chase this guy. Izzy does a beautiful job with his footwork creating drop-step angles where he gets you to walk into things either southpaw and/or orthodox. So in those resets, we used the cage as an inanimate object to make it to where we funneled him in the corner posts. By doing so, he had to reset his rhythm and reset his feet.”

He continued, “Izzy’s a Rubik’s cube. But how do you solve a Rubik’s cube? You solve one side at a time. So once you get the white side done, you work on the red side. Then this side. All I wanted to do was figure out one side of the Rubik’s cube and if we can do that and accomplish that, how far does it take him out of his game and out of his element? And it did. It took him very far out of his game and out of his element and I was perfectly fine with solving one side of that Rubik’s cube.”

Strickland nearly solved the puzzle within the first five minutes, blasting ‘The Last Stylebender’ with a perfectly placed right hand that sent Adesanya crashing to the canvas. Strickland swarmed in hoping to score the early knockout, all the while Nicksick was trying to stay in the moment and not lose his cool.

“I looked over and watched the commentators,” Nicksick said when asked about Strickland’s near finish in the first. “I didn’t even watch. I wanted to make sure that I stayed in the moment and I stayed calm because there was nothing for me to scream. There was nothing for me to yell. He couldn’t hear me anyway. He wouldn’t listen anyway so at that point I looked over and watched Megan [Olivi] in disbelief. I watched [Jon] Anik.”

Sharing his mindset as the judges read aloud the scorecards in favor of Sean Strickland, Nicksick revealed that he was happy to see his fighter reach the top. Particularly after all of the struggles and hardships that Strickland had to go through in order to get there. 

“I was just happy for the guy more than anything,” Nicksick said with a smile. “He gives hope to a lot of people. Whether you like the guy or not. Whether some of the things he says are very outlandish and very brash and they come off off-putting, not only to most, but to me included. But when you know his story and you know who Sean is and what made Sean the way he is today, I think it is a replication of hope to many people. 

“I think there’s a lot of people in this world, especially during that late-90s to early-2000s pandemic of opioids and people addicted to drugs. Broken homes and all the sh*t that this guy had to go through, so it was a great moment for me just to sit back. We gave this guy a home. We helped this guy succeed and realize his full potential. Not only this gym but also his girlfriend. The people around him.”

Eric Nicksick Addresses What Could Be Next for Sean Strickland

With Strickland’s stunning title victory now in the books, fight fans will begin looking toward the future of the division. Specifically, who will ‘Tarzan’ defend his title against first? Asked who he would like to see step up and challenge his fighter for the middleweight crowd, Nicksick hopes that over time, it’ll be every single contender in the division that attempts to dethrone the new champ. 

“I don’t care. Hopefully, we’ll fight them all,” Nicksick said. “That means we’re defending the belt, right? I could make a valid point for each individual and it doesn’t matter what I think or what I say. It’s up to the UFC and what they think is next for them.”

Currently, No. 1 ranked contender Dricus Du Plessis appears to be the man in pole position, but UFC CEO Dana White doesn’t seem terribly keen on that idea after ‘Stillknocks’ declined the opportunity to fight Israel Adesanya at UFC 293, leaving the door open for Sean Strickland to sneak in and take the title for himself. 

“You could say that Dricus fumbled or this and that, and I get it too. The man probably had legitimate injuries, but the same thing happened to us with Francis [Ngannou],” Nicksick said. “We couldn’t fight Derrick Lewis in August. We could fight him in September. What did [the UFC] do? Later! Interim [title]. We’re the champ of the world and we don’t get that opportunity. They wait for nobody. Sorry bro, but opportunity knocked on our door and we kicked that motherf*cker in.”

As for when you can expect to see Strickland defend his title for the very first time, it makes no difference to Nicksick, but December at UFC 296 sounds like the likeliest of scenarios. 

“I don’t care. He came out of [UFC 293] unscathed,” Nicksick added. “He had a hurt toe, like we’re gonna give a sh*t about a hurt toe. So he’ll be back in the gym and training once he gets the stitches out of his foot. Let’s fight December. Let’s do something at the end of the year. I don’t really care. That’s what I love so much about him. His willingness to be back in the gym and back in training.”

Check out the full interview below:

Published on September 13, 2023 at 9:24 pm
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