Dricus du Plessis closes in on UFC middleweight championship with ‘title eliminator’ against Robert Whittaker

Dricus du Plessis closes in on UFC middleweight championship with ‘title eliminator’ against Robert Whittaker
Dricus du Plessis grapples with Darren Till of England in a middleweight fight during the UFC 282 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on 10 December 2022. (Photo: Sean M Haffey / Getty Images)

Dricus du Plessis has risen up the UFC middleweight rankings rapidly since his first entry in 2020 and he is now only two fights away from becoming South Africa’s first UFC champion.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White confirmed that South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis (19-2) will take on second-ranked Robert Whittaker (25-6) in a brawl for a title shot against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 290 in July.

The fight will be a co-main event alongside the flyweight title bout between Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja.

“On Saturday July 8 at UFC 290, we have a middleweight title eliminator,” White said in a video posted to Twitter.

“The former champion Robert Whittaker – whose only losses in the last nine years are to the champ Israel Adesanya – he will be taking on Dricus du Plessis.

“Du Plessis has won seven straight fights and finished six of them.”

“The winner of that fight will fight Adesanya later this year and that fight is targeted for Sydney, Australia.

Du Plessis has the best ongoing record in the middleweight division and has been undefeated since his first fight against Brazilian Markus Perez in October 2020.

Dricus du Plessis punches Derek Brunson during the UFC 285 event in Las Vegas on 4 March 2023. (Photo: Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Stillknocks, as he is known, peaked in the top five of the UFC middleweight rankings after his victory over Derek Brunson in March this year but has since slid down to sixth place.

Australia’s Whittaker, on the other hand, is a former middleweight champion, having lost the title to Adesanya at UFC 243 in October 2019.

Adesanya only recently reclaimed the middleweight title after knocking out long-time foe Alex Pereira at UFC 287 this month.

Nose surgery

Du Plessis has struggled with his breathing in recent fights against Darren Till and Brunson, often looking gassed after the first round and breathing through his mouth.

The problem stems from a nose injury he suffered while fighting. But the brawny fighter recently had surgery to fix the problem.

“As a coach I don’t believe it’s my place to get involved with the politics between the fighters, but today I do,” his fighting coach Morne Visser said on Instagram recently.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dricus du Plessis hammers his way up UFC rankings – and now ‘I’m coming for the No 1 spot’

“Dricus has been crucified by many watching him fighting in the UFC for his gas tank.

“Well, here are some facts never disclosed to the public or his opponents. He has just had a nose surgery which was supposed to happen three years ago. [He’s had] a total oxygen intake through both his nostrils of about 8% for the last three years.

“We signed with the UFC knowing this, but we also knew that you don’t say no to any fight that the boss man Dana White offers.

“We fought three times in the last seven months, crushing our opponents with almost no oxygen during the rounds.”


Du Plessis will need to get through the daunting challenge of Whittaker first, but champion Adesanya and the South African have thrown verbal jabs at each other for a while.

“I’m going to take a belt to Africa… I’m the African fighter in the UFC,” quipped Du Plessis before his fight against Brunson at UFC 285.

Dricus du Plessis of South Africa reacts after defeating Darren Till of England in Las Vegas on 10 December 2022. (Photo by Sean M Haffey / Getty Images)

“Myself and Cameron [Saaiman], we breathe the African air. We wake up in Africa every day. We train in Africa. We are African born, we are African raised, we still reside in Africa, we train out of Africa.

“That’s an African champion and that’s who I’ll be,” Du Plessis said, referencing the fact that Adesanya was born in Nigeria but was raised and trained in mixed martial arts in New Zealand.

Adesanya quipped back with “I will gladly drag his carcass across South Africa”, after his title win over Pereira.

Once the eliminator fight between Du Plessis and Whittaker was confirmed, Adesanya replied “Please win”, to Du Plessis, seemingly eager to set up a title fight with the South African.

Du Plessis has risen up the UFC middleweight rankings rapidly since his first entry and he is now only two fights away from becoming South Africa’s first UFC champion — although the two men standing in his way won’t make it easy. DM


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