Underdog Dricus du Plessis to face ‘The Reaper’ in last obstacle to UFC title shot
Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is the only person standing between Dricus du Plessis and a title shot. The two burly athletes meet for an enticing brawl on Sunday morning.
South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis (19-2) will have the biggest fight of his burgeoning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career when he takes on former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (25-6) on Sunday morning.
The winner of the middleweight title-eliminator fight at the T-Mobile Arena facility in Paradise, Nevada, USA will face current champion Israel Adesanya in a fight for the title.
Whittaker has already battled Adesanya twice for the middleweight title, losing on both occasions. But the Aussie-born Whittaker is widely considered the second-best fighter in the division — matching his No 2 ranking.
Aside from his defeats to the champion, Whittaker has won every other fight since moving to the middleweight division in 2014.
“One thing that he does is he wins. He does that very well; he wins fights,” Du Plessis said about Whittaker.
“Robert Whittaker is just one of those guys, what I see in his game is he can quickly fight a first round and not get trapped in his opponent’s gameplan.
“What he does so well is he sees. He stays wary. In that first round, he feels out what you want to do in the fight, what your game plan is for the fight, and he matches that.
“He gives you the opportunity to show your tools, to show your weapons, to show what you want to use.
“He realises, ‘this is exactly what my opponent wants to do, so what I’m gonna do now is work around that,’ and he starts to implement his gameplan.
“If it’s not the momentum he wants, then he just stops the momentum. That’s what I think he does really well… That’s what makes him unique.
“He’s always prepared and he has a very high fight IQ,” said Du Plessis.
The burly South African, currently ranked fifth in the division, is undefeated in his five bouts in the UFC so far but he steps into the ring against Whittaker as a massive underdog.
Du Plessis has gone into every one of his five UFC fights — against Markus Perez, Trevin Giles, Brad Tavares, Darren Till and Derek Brunson — as the underdog and come out on top.
His unconventional, high-pace fighting style as well as his propensity to breathe through his mouth — although he has had nose surgery to fix this — makes him look vulnerable even when in control of a fight.
Du Plessis also has the inclination to drop his guard and not protect his face but is able to eat up punches even when well-directed.
Whittaker’s compatriot and featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski — who will compete in the main event at UFC 290 against Yair Rodríguez — is among a number of high-profile detractors who believe Sunday will be a challenge too big for Du Plessis.
“Beating Robert Whittaker is not going to be easy for him,” Volkanovski said on his YouTube channel.
“He could be a great fighter, but Robert Whittaker is just too well rounded, he’s too good everywhere, and his skill set is gonna be too much.
“I think you’d be mad to think that Dricus can get it done. Obviously, it’s entertaining for an underdog to get a big win but not against someone like a Robert Whittaker.
“He’s too smart, he’s too well rounded, and I think he’s gonna be way too much for Dricus. If they’re the next guys fighting for the title out of that fight, it’s going to have to be Rob. I cannot see Rob losing that fight.
“He’s obviously unstoppable outside the [Adesanya] fights. No one can get anywhere near him. That just shows you how good Robert Whittaker is.”
Whittaker on the other hand, has commended Du Plessis’ “warrior spirit.”
“From everything I’ve seen with Dricus, he seems like a straight-up fella,” Whittaker said.
“He seems like a warrior. He has a good warrior and honourable spirit about him. That really excites me.
“It excites me to have an opponent like that, an opponent that sees the craft for what it is for, sees what we are getting ourselves into, staring across the octagon together in the floor space of the arena. Knowing he’s like that just gave me electric tingles. I love it.”
Meanwhile, in the early prelims, another South African, Cameron Saaiman (8-0), will also fly the country’s flag when he takes on America’s Terrence Mitchell (15-2) in a bantamweight brawl.
Saaiman and Du Plessis train together at the CIT training facility in Pretoria. DM