American Sean Strickland registered one of the greatest upsets in UFC history by stunning Israel Adesanya to become the new middleweight champion.
Strickland, who agreed to fight on late notice after Dricus du Plessis was unavailable, outpointed the heavy favourite in the main event at UFC 293 in Sydney on Sunday morning, taking the title via unanimous decision. All three judges at the Qudos Bank Arena scored the contest 49-46.
Strickland, who came into the bout as the division's No 5-ranked challenger, knocked down Adesanya at the end of the first of the five rounds. With the win, he lifted his professional MMA record to 28-5.
Speaking inside the octagon immediately after, an emotional Strickland said: “Am I dreaming? Am I going to wake up? Someone hit me. I don’t cry much but I’m trying to keep it together right now.
"This is the first time I'm lost for words."
Strickland had pressured Adesanya throughout the bout, the then-champion never able to land anything too clean on his opponent. The Nigerian-born New Zealander departed the octagon with his face bloodied and bruised, while Strickland was unscathed.
It represented only the third defeat of Adesanya’s 27-fight professional MMA career.
“I give up so many brain cells to the MMA gods,” Strickland said. “I thought I’d be walking away a little bloody, a little broken up. I’m a little shocked that didn’t happen.
"You don’t fight that guy with that many highlight-reel knockouts. He’s beat the majority of my friends, he’s beat [them] pretty easily. I was even kind of doubting myself at times.
“But I’ve got to say, the fans in Australia, you guys motivated me. When I’m walking in here and I heard you guys yelling. In that fourth round, I heard you guys yelling. It fuelled me.”
In the event’s co-main clash, Russian heavyweight Alexander Volkov defeated home hope Tai Tuivasa by second-round submission.
The UFC's next pay-per-view event takes place next month, with UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi on October 21.