Coach Hopes Sean Strickland Trusts Corner’s Instincts in Paulo Costa Matchup

Sean Strickland coach Eric Nicksick revealed that there is always a risk of the former middleweight champ not listening to his corner.

Strickland (28-6) is scheduled to fight Paulo Costa (14-3) in the co-main event at UFC302 on June 1 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Strickland’s only knockout loss in the recent past came against Alex Pereira in 2022, when he inexplicably chose to stand in the pocket against the former Glory Kickboxing champion. With Costa also being known for an explosive style, Nicksick admitted that there is always the possibility of Strickland fighting the Brazilian’s game.

“Of course, I’m always worried. He doesn’t listen for s—t,” Eric Nicksick told Sportskeeda MMA. “There’s elements I think that we need to address. Especially in a five-round fight, it’s important to utilize a full MMA skills set. You’ve heard me say this time and time again with Sean. And will he probably listen, probably not.”

Following his loss against Pereira, Strickland suffered a close split-decision loss against Jared Cannonier. Strickland then bounced back with back-to-back wins and landed a title shot, where he outdueled Israel Adesanya in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Nicksick revealed that Strickland acknowledged his fault in not listening to his corner in the Cannonier loss and made necessary adjustments.

“Those are things that I think I can go back in point to, for example when we lost to Jared Cannonier, there were certain things that I was asking for that I think that would have solidified a win for ourselves — instead we lose a close split decision. And we went back to the drawing board, and he called me actually that Sunday and he said, ‘Hey I understand what you were telling me now and why you were asking for those things.’ And then he listened and then we won two in a row and then we won the title fight.”

Strickland lost his title via split decision against Dricus Du Plessis at UFC 297 this past January. According to Nicksick, Strickland could have secured himself a win had he listened to his corner, which the former champ also acknowledged.

“And then we fought Dricus and there were some things that I think, although the fight was very close, there’s things again that we were asking for that I think would have solidified us to get that victory,” Nicksick said. “And we didn’t do those things and again he said, ‘Now I understand what you’re saying.’ It’s just a growth process for me and him as a coach and fighter. I hope that he trusts our instincts from outside of the cage and he can follow suit with some of those things and go get us another victory.”

The upcoming tilt between Strickland and Costa is a five-rounder, a rarity for non-title fights that aren’t headliners. Nicksick believes the stipulation will favor Strickland, who boasts one of the best gas tanks at middleweight.

“I feel it definitely favors us, our durability, our pressure and the pace that Sean’s able to keep on. We’ve seen what Sean’s able to do in five rounds. He is a gas pedal guy, he’s gonna stay in your face and he’s gonna push the pressure. So I definitely think that does favor us in a five rounder.”

Nicksick also shared details of Strickland’s grueling training regimen at the Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, where he is being constantly pushed by Bellator MMA middleweight champ Johnny Eblen.

“Camp’s been really good, and that’s the great part about Sean, is he’s always working, he’s always in the gym,” Nicksick said. “Last Monday this guy sparred Johnny Eblen for five rounds at 11 a.m. and then came back to my 3:30 pro practice, which is a grinder. We ended up doing about seven, five-minute rounds, then we did like some wall works and drills. I mean, it’s a really, really hard practice. And him [Strickland] and Eblen are just neck and neck every time they’re in there. That’s why I love having Johnny in the room, is because those two just push each other.”

Nicksick is confident that Strickland won’t need the judges against Costa.

“I think Sean could get him out of there by round 4 or round 5,” he said.

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