The MMA Factory’s Nassourdine Imavov was scheduled to fight 13th ranked Middleweight and former interim title challenger Kelvin Gastelum this Saturday at UFC Vegas 67. Gastelum was forced to withdraw from the bout due to an injury to his mouth, and instead Sean Strickland will step in and face Imavov in a five round 205-pound main event. This quick turnaround for Strickland will make him the first person to headline back to back UFC events since Tito Ortiz headlined UFC 29 and 30. Strickland closed 2022 with a split-decision loss to Jared Cannonier at UFC Vegas 66, and will look to open 2023 getting back on track with a win over 12th ranked middleweight, Nassourdine Imavov.
Imavov, a training partner of Cyril Game and the newest UFC prospect training out of France, will be taking a big step up in competition against Strickland in his first main event slot. Imavov has gone 4-1 in the UFC and entered the Middleweight top 15 after back to back ground and pound finishes over Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan. Imavov is coming into this fight off a win over Joaquin Buckley, a fight where Imavov dominated the first two rounds and then really fell off the gas in the third and final round.
A big question about Imavov going into this matchup will be if he has the cardio to go five rounds with a guy like Sean Strickland. This will be Strickland’s fourth five round UFC main event and Imavov’s first. Imavov has the cleaner, more technical striking, but this has not stopped Strickland before, he walked down Uriah Hall for five rounds and outstruck him every round. Strickland and his jab will always be there, always coming forward, for five hard fought rounds.
I predict Sean Strickland will win a close 48-47 Decision, taking rounds 3-5. I expect Imavov to come out the more aggressive fighter and win early rounds, but if he fails to finish Sean Strickland early I fear he is in for a long night of jabs in his face. I do believe Imavov’s best path to victory would be to finish Strickland with strikes in the first two rounds. While very few have put him down, It was proven just last year that it is possible when Alex Pereira put Strickland out cold with a left hook. The odds are closing in on a coin flip for either fighter and I expect the fight to look the same. Both fighters will win rounds and it will likely come down to who has more in the tank in the championship rounds.