Sean Strickland won’t have to wait long for a chance to dull the sting from his loss to Jared Cannonier. The #7 middleweight is stepping in for the injured Kelvin Gastelum to face Nassourdine Imavov in the main event of this weekend’s edition of UFC Fight Night from Las Vegas.
In addition to the sudden change in opponent, the bout will be contested at the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds. Strickland is an upgrade in every sense for Imavov, who oddsmakers favored to beat the skidding Gastelum.
Imavov currently stands at #12 in the middleweight rankings. While the fight is unlikely to change the rankings for him or Strickland regardless of the outcome, the winner should see more meaningful fights fall on their lap this year.
Gastelum had to pull out of the fight due to a mouth injury that required a tooth to be sewn in. The former interim middleweight champion hoped to snap a three-fight losing streak, but now Strickland takes his spot under similar circumstances.
After an impressive 5-0 run, Strickland has lost back-to-back fights to Alex Pereira and Cannonier for the first losing streak of his career. The bout with Cannonier at UFC Fight Night 216 was derided for its lack of action, and Strickland lost by split decision.
Strickland vs. Imavov is a bigger fight
Though Strickland lost his last two fights, he undoubtedly remains one of the best middleweights in the UFC. His striking and experience against top-tier opponents will present Imavov a bigger challenge than the fading Gastelum.
Imavov has rebounded nicely since a loss to Phil Hawes in February 2021. He’s won his last three fights with two wins coming inside the distance. Even so, the Gastelum fight was universally regarded as a step up in competition for the Frenchman.
Now Imavov has to contend with Strickland’s methodical striking. While Strickland is coming off a short turnaround from the Cannonier fight, having the fight contested at light heavyweight will prevent him from taking a dangerous weight cut with just days to go before the opening bell.
Strickland vs. Imavov takes place this Saturday, January 14, at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The bout will be available on ESPN+.