Sean Strickland headlined the final UFC card of 2022, and now that Kelvin Gastelum pulled out of his headlining bout against Nassourdine Imavov, Strickland will headline the first card of 2023. This fight has significant implications on the middleweight division's top ten, but it will be contested at 205 pounds.
Gastelum last fought in August of 2021 when he dropped a decision to Jared Cannonier. This marked Gastelum's second straight loss and left him 1-5 in his last 6. Though that stretch isn't super impressive, all of those losses are to top middleweights. Gastelum's tough strength of schedule would only be added to in the form of 12-3 Nassourdine Imavov.
Due to a mouth injury, Gastelum has been forced to withdraw from the fight. Gastelum took to Instagram to break the news:
“I'm extremely dissappointed to say the least. This is not how I wanted to start 2023. I workded my a*s off & battled through a lot of [adversity] and was ready to put on a hell of a show this weekend. I apologize to Imavov [and] his camp as well as the UFC and all the fans.“
Not to worry, though. Sean Strickland is stepping in to save the first UFC event of the year. Strickland fought just weeks ago, losing a controversial split decision against Jared Cannonier. This fight was a hard one to score, and many people did think that Strickland had done enough to hopefully earn himself a title shot, but two of the three judges didn't see it that way.
So, even though it was another loss on Strickland's record, and he's backed into a bit more of a corner, he didn't really lose any stock in his previous bout. Hence him getting the call to take this short-notice fight. Oh, also, Strickland is a bit nuts and he'll fight anyone, anytime, anywhere – but especially in Las Vegas.
Let's be honest, taking on Nassourdine Imavov on short notice is pretty scary.
Imavov has finished nine of his twelve professional wins and is 4-1 in the UFC. His last bout was against Joaquin Buckley last September and he looked absolutely incredible in this fight. Prior to that fight, he really popped up on the fans' radars as he TKO'd Edmen Shahbazyan.
Does UFC: Fight Night 217 still hold up ?
It's upsetting that we were so close to seeing the return of Kelvin Gastelum, but there are still so many great fights to see on this card, including our new main event between Imavov and Strickland. The undefeated Umar Nurmagomedov is scheduled to lock horns with Raoni Barcelos. Allan Nascimento looks to make it two in a row against Carlos Hernandez, who puts his eight fight winning streak on the line.
Additionally, Jimmy Flick breaks his retirement as he takes on Charles Johnson; this bout is sure to deliver. Dan Ige will take on Damon Jackson, who just secured an emphatic and emotional stoppage win over Pat Sabatini. Though this card just took a bit of a hit, it still holds up and is a great opener to the new year.