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Sean Strickland was at the centre of one of the year’s biggest shocks in mixed martial arts when he defeated Israel Adesanya in Sydney earlier this month — but according to his coach, Eric Nicksick, the fight was in jeopardy of not taking place at all. 

It didn’t take too long for Strickland to be the source of headlines Down Under, particularly after he revealed that he “punched” fan in the stomach who had approached him to take a photograph. Strickland would later clarify that the situation was not a serious one and that both men had laughed following the exchange — but nonetheless, it appears as if the American fighter’s reputation had preceded him with the Australian authorities.

“We almost got pulled from the fight [during] fight week,” Nicksick said on the Straight Outta the Lair podcast, as noted by MiddleEasy. “This idiot punches a dude in his belly. Like, a fan runs up to him talking sh*t and Sean Strickland goes full Sean Strickland on him. The guy was like, ‘Izzy’s gonna knock you out,’ but the guy wanted a picture and Sean kinda had his arm around him so Sean gives him one to the ribs. Didn’t hurt the guy or nothing, but you don’t want to be insinuating any violence at all at any capacity during fight week when you’re barely allowed in the country.

He continued: “Australia had him held up for two hours when we landed in customs so we’re walking on eggshells before we even land. Hopefully, we can make it into the country and then this idiot goes and love-taps some guy. No one knows about it. No one says a word. No video. No nothing so we’re good. What does Sean do? He incriminates himself during the press conference talking about the fans. ‘The fans have been wonderful. Everything’s been great. Except for one a**hole and I punched him in his belly.’”

And as Nicksick explained further, this was where the Australian authorities interjected.

“The Australian government or whoever was listening hears this and they go to the UFC. They were pissed. I’m dead serious. They were going to pull him. I’m not even joking. They already had Jared Cannonier there. He’s are replacement. He’s our backup for Izzy or Sean and he had to make weight. So this is where I was like, ‘Oh sh*t dude, this is real life.’ I’m good friends with John Crouch from MMA Lab. Very good friends with this guy and I catch wind that the UFC is booking coach Crouch’s flight from Arizona to Australia on three days notice.

“What is that, 10 grand? That’s not cheap and that’s a 15-16 hour flight. So to me, that was very serious. There was a good chance we’re going to lose this fight if we don’t get our sh*t together. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. I talked to Mick [Maynard] a little bit about it. Mick pulled for us from my understanding. There was a lot of politicking back and forth.

“And then Sean goes and does the open workout and brings the guy on stage,” Nicksick added. “Dots him up a little bit, but dude, he is the epitome of a sitcom. Every episode starts with what predicament Sean can get himself into. Like, what kind of pickle can Strickland get himself out of this time? It’s just another episode of Sean Strickland’s life and low and behold, he navigates himself through the week. Not only does that, but he goes and beats arguably the best middleweight to ever do it.”