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Resiliency is a trait inherent to being a fighter.
While a few mixed martial artists have crumbled at the first sign of adversity they have faced, the majority of top fighters have bounced back from losing streaks and personal setbacks to find success inside the cage. However, there are some challenges that are greater than others and Sherdog’s Comeback Fighter of the Year award celebrates the toughness and perseverance of the sport’s finest.
The year 2020 was a difficult time for most of the world, but it served as a bounce back platform for many martial artists. Mackenzie Dern showed there is nothing tougher than a mother as she was able to go 3-0 inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship after suffering her first career loss and giving birth in 2019. Also rebounding from a first career defeat was Brian Ortega, who returned after nearly two years to dominate Chan Sung Jung over five rounds in the best performance in the career of “T-City.” Cub Swanson also proved he had more left in the tank as he knocked out Daniel Pineda after undergoing knee surgery at the age of 37. While all of these feats were impressive, there was one comeback that stood out from the rest.
The mixed martial arts career of Sean Strickland was put on hold in late 2018 following a motorcycle crash that occurred after a van pulled in front of “Tarzan.” The accident left the fighter unconscious for roughly three hours. Despite a knee surgery stemming from the accident and two years away from the Octagon, Strickland is now on his most impressive win streak inside the UFC. This incredible turnaround makes Strickland the winner for Sherdog’s Comeback Fighter of the Year for 2020 after garnering over 40 percent of the vote.
Even Strickland’s return bout saw him face uncertainty. Originally set to square off against Wellington Turman, the bout was called off after the Brazilian tested positive for COVID-19 just a month out from the fight. UFC veteran Jack Marshman would step in to face Strickland but came in a pound-and-a-half overweight for the bout.
Despite the opponent change and facing a heavier fighter, Strickland returned from his injury looking as sharp as ever. “Tarzan” was able to easily outpoint Marshman over three rounds at UFC Fight Night 181. In a memorable moment during the third round, Strickland told his opponent to engage blows with him as he was willing to give Marshman a chance to win as long as they both went all-out. While that victory alone would have made the California fighter’s comeback story memorable, he followed it up with another contest two weeks later against Brendan Allen.
The second fight of 2020 for Strickland was even more impressive than the first. Strickland stunned Allen on the feet in Round 2 and dropped his opponent to the canvas. “Tarzan” kept the pressure on with accurate, damaging strikes that forced referee Herb Dean to show mercy. Making victory even sweeter was that Strickland earned an extra $50,000 from a performance bonus.
Now riding a three-fight win streak that dates back to his TKO victory over Nordine Taleb, the 29-year-old is poised for an opportunity to test his mettle against ranked fighters. After fighting back from such an accident, there is no doubting Strickland’s heart and eagerness to compete. He’ll move into 2021 knowing that he’s exactly where he belongs inside the Octagon.