SA’s Du Plessis emerges as top dog after defeating Australia’s Whittaker at UFC 290

SA’s Du Plessis emerges as top dog after defeating Australia’s Whittaker at UFC 290
Dricus du Plessis celebrates after defeating Robert Whittaker in a middleweight bout during UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Photo: Steve Marcus / Getty Images)

South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis defeated long-time UFC middleweight contender Robert Whittaker at UFC 290 to set up a tasty brawl with champion Israel Adesanya.

South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis thumped Australia’s Robert Whittaker by TKO halfway through the second round of their main card fight at UFC 290 in the early hours of Sunday morning, 9 July.

The fight, which Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White labelled as “title-eliminator”, sees Du Plessis emerge as the No 1 contender for the middleweight belt, currently donned by Israel Adesanya. 

It was perhaps Du Plessis’ best overall performance in the UFC to date as the burly South African’s unorthodox fighting style surprised the usually composed Whittaker, who had few answers. 

It was a good weekend in sport for South Africa over Australia as the Springboks beat the Wallabies on Saturday evening at Loftus Versfeld, before Du Plessis got his own over an Aussie at the T-Mobile Arena facility in Paradise, Nevada, in the USA. 

“Can you see how out of breath I am? I guess I did some running routines this whole camp … I’m lying. I told you I have cardio for days,” Du Plessis said to Joe Rogan after the fight, commenting on how his breathing issues have improved since his nose operation in April. 

“Secondly, you guys have T-minus two hours to delete a whole lot of comments because I’m coming for those social media posts,” he continued, remarking on how he was written off by many as an underdog prior to the fight.

The win signals Du Plessis’ sixth consecutive UFC victory since joining the promotion company in 2020. 

“Robert Whittaker hits hard and he hits so fast. This is truly the biggest honour of my whole fighting career. Being able to share a cage with a legend, a guy that I had a Fighters Only [magazine] poster of in my room, dreaming to be like someday,” Du Plessis said in admiration of the fighter who has only been defeated by Adesanya in the middleweight division in the UFC before. 

Dricus du Plessis (top) punches Robert Whittaker in a middleweight bout during UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena on 8 July 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Du Plessis won with a second-round TKO. (Photo: Steve Marcus / Getty Images)


Du Plessis was dominant throughout the brawl, countering Whittaker’s attempted take-down with a guillotine in the first round while keeping his wits about him on defence, rarely leaving his face exposed for any of Whittaker’s potential ferocious hooks or jabs.

The South African also managed to graze Whittaker with an elbow during a late round one pound-and-ground, scraping above his eye which made the former division champion bleed. 

With round one slightly favouring Du Plessis, Whittaker came out in the second trying to get back into the fight, but Du Plessis struck him firmly with a straight right jab which left the Aussie groggy halfway through the round. 

Giving him no time to compose himself, Du Plessis followed with an onslaught of punches to the face and body. Whittaker was unable to defend himself sufficiently before the fight was stopped in the third minute of the round. 

“As I dropped him, he threw his own left hook and I just tried to duck under it so I didn’t even see [Whittaker get stunned],” the South African said after the fight.

“Next thing I saw were his hands on the canvas and I wanted to just rush but we all know I have a problem with that so I just tried to stay calm. 

“I saw his fight with [​​Jared] Cannonier and with all the other fighters, as they turn southpaw – that’s why I came out southpaw tonight – the right jabs really caught him and as that happened I saw it as the beginning of the end.” 

Adesanya steps in

As Du Plessis was speaking to Rogan in the Octagon after his win, Adesanya walked into the cage along with his circle of security.

The two have a cagey history and squared off as Adesanya called Du Plessis his “African brother” before Du Plessis hit back saying “I’m African, but I’m no brother of yours”. 

Although nothing has been confirmed, White mentioned the possibility of the two facing off at UFC 293 in Sydney Australia on 10 September. 

It will be an almighty task and perhaps one of the most incredible achievements in UFC history for Du Plessis to beat both the long-term middleweight challenger in Whittaker as well as the champion, Adesanya within nine weeks of each other. 

Saaiman keeps going

In the early prelims on Saturday evening, another South African, 22-year-old Cameron Saaiman TKO’d America’s Terrence Mitchell in the first round of their bantamweight fight. 

Saaiman exhibited his excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu to grapple and overpower Mitchell. Saaiman never let Mitchell out of his grasp from the start of the fight and finished it with Mitchell on his stomach while he unleashed a flurry of punches from above to take the TKO win just over halfway through the first round. 

In the main event of the evening, there was a solitary Aussie win as Alexander Volkanovski defeated Yair Rodriguez to successfully defend his featherweight championship. 

While in the co-main event, Brazilian Alexandre Pantoja defeated Brandon Moreno for the third time (including an exhibition match in The Ultimate Fighter) and became the new flyweight champion. DM


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