STILLKNOCKS VS THE REAPER
‘Dangerous’ Dricus du Plessis has ‘everything to gain’ in decisive fight with Robert Whittaker at UFC 290
SA’s du Plessis has accepted his underdog title heading into his title eliminator clash against former middleweight champion Whittaker, who remains cautious, this Sunday.
Robert Whittaker’s last Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) loss to an opponent not named Israel Adesanya came in 2014. And that was when he was still competing in the welterweight division.
Since moving up to middleweight, Whittaker’s won 12 fights while his two defeats have come against one of the best-ever fighters in the division in Adesanya.
South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis has his work cut out for him to beat “The Reaper” in the early hours of Sunday morning on UFC 290’s main card at the T-Mobile Arena facility in Paradise, Nevada, USA.
Du Plessis has been on an impressive run of his own since entering the UFC in 2020, going on a five-fight winning streak — finishing four of his opponents including against UFC veterans Derek Brunson and Darren Till.
“I didn’t even know I was the favourite every time [before this],” Du Plessis said to the media.
“With a guy like Whittaker, I’m not surprised that I’m the underdog. On what grounds do you say, ‘No, on betting odds, Dricus is beating Whittaker?’ On what grounds? My opponents don’t add up to his.
“The amount of fights don’t add up. He’s had the belt. He’s fought the champ twice. He hasn’t lost to anybody else in almost a decade. Yeah, he deserves to be the betting favourite, 100 per cent.
“I’m not even offended by it at all. For me, this is where I’m taking over. This is where I become the betting favourite. This is a fight that puts me in that tier.
“There’s a champion and there’s a contender. Up until you beat the champion, nobody believes you’re going to be that champion. Robert Whittaker, rightfully so, is a fan-and-betting-favourite. That is for now, up until I surpass that spot.”
‘Enforce my style’
Du Plessis acknowledged the effectiveness of Whittaker’s fast-paced fighting and his quick feet but assured that he won’t allow the former middleweight champion to get comfortable enough to express himself in the octagon with him.
“[Whittaker’s] an incredible, incredible fighter. People will say, ‘Where do you see holes in his game?’ To see a hole in a game of someone like Whittaker is extremely, extremely hard,” Du Plessis said.
“I don’t think that’s the way to go. I’m not looking for holes in his game. I’m looking to force mistakes and capitalise on those. That’s exactly what I’m going to do when I go out there: enforce my style.”
The South African’s journey up the UFC middleweight ladder has been rapid, with the winner of Sunday morning’s fight promised a shot at the title by UFC president Dana White.
“This is definitely the biggest fight of my career but so was the one before that and the one before that,” Du Plessis said nonchalantly.
Beating Whittaker will provide a first opportunity at a title shot for Du Plessis, while for Whittaker it will be his third opportunity at trying to regain the middleweight title from Adesanya.
Whittaker’s experience and noted guile sets him up as the pre-fight favourite, but he is in no way doubting the capability of the high-flying Du Plessis.
“He’s the most dangerous fight to date,” Whittaker said at the UFC 290 media day.
“That’s because he’s the one that’s unwritten. Everything in hindsight is easy, but he’s the unknown. I understand the dangers that he presents because not only is he well-rounded and an athlete, physically he’s a big guy, he’s not a small fella. He has nothing to lose, everyone’s already washed him.
“He’s the underdog in this fight and tell me something more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose, everything to gain.
“And to show respect for that level of danger that he’s brought, I have trained like a madman for the last 14 weeks, and may the best man win. He’s going to get the best version of myself come the weekend.”
The battle between the strength and relentlessness of Du Plessis and the pace and fleet-footedness of Whittaker on the UFC 290 main card sets up the main events beautifully.
In the co-main event, champion Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja will face off for the flyweight title while Whittaker’s compatriot, Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodríguez will battle it out for the featherweight title in the main event.
The main card fights start at 4am CAT Sunday morning. DM