Sean Strickland will get an opportunity to bounce back from two successive defeats a little earlier than anticipated after he agreed to fill in for Kelvin Gastelum in a bout opposite Nassourdine Imavov this Saturday night in the UFC Apex.
Strickland, the UFC firebrand who was on the verge of title contention at 185-pounds, has dropped his last two fights against Alex Pereira and — just three weeks ago — opposite Jared Cannonier to drop a few rungs down the middleweight ladder, but it appears as if Gastelum’s misfortune has worked in his favour.
Gastelum, a former interim title contender in his own right, withdrew from Saturday’s fight citing a mouth injury, handing an opportunity to Strickland to headline his second UFC event in succession, and comes after he was disappointed not to earn the nod from the judges in his December 17 bout with Cannonier.
I’m extremely disappointed to say the least. This not how I wanted to start 2023.
I worked my ass off & battled through a lot of adversary and was ready to put on a hell of a show this weekend.
I apologize to Imavov, his camp as well as @ufc and all the fans. #OnAmission4Gold
— #OnAmission4Gold (@KelvinGastelum) January 9, 2023
The fight with Imavov, who is 12-3 overall and 4-1 in the UFC, will take place at light heavyweight and will be contested over five rounds.
The 27-year-old Russian Imavov has been in impressive form recently, scoring a unanimous decision win against Joaquin Buckley in the UFC’s debut event in Paris in September. Before that, he scored finishes against Edmen Shahbazyan and Ian Heinisch.
Gastelum, meanwhile, has struggled with injuries in recent months and hasn’t fought in the cage since an August 2021 defeat to Cannonier. He was won just one of his past six fights in the Octagon.