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MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

Dricus du Plessis eyes history as South Africa’s first UFC champion

Dricus du Plessis eyes history as South Africa’s first UFC champion
Dricus du Plessis will take on champion Sean Strickland in the middleweight title fight at UFC 297. (Photo: Anton Geyser / Gallo Images)

South Africa’s best UFC fighter yet will seek to punch his way into the history books when he takes on Sean Strickland on Sunday.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (South African time), Dricus du Plessis will stride into the octagon at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, looking to make history.

The mixed martial arts fighter from Hatfield in Pretoria will take on champion Sean Strickland in the middleweight title fight at UFC 297 — the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view of the year. 

He is attempting to become the first South African to win a UFC title. 

Du Plessis is by far the best national representative at the UFC — the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion company. 

The 30-year-old’s record reads six fights and six wins, four by technical knockouts. The burly fighter is clearly a force to be reckoned with and his opponent, Strickland, defending his title for the first time, won’t be taking him lightly.

dricus du plessis ufc

Dricus Du Plessis celebrates after defeating Robert Whittaker in a middleweight bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on 8 July 2023. Du Plessis won with a second-round TKO. (Photo: Steve Marcus / Getty Images)

“I think it’s going to be a harder fight than Izzy [Adesanya],” Strickland said at the UFC media day on Wednesday.

“The thing about Dricus is that he just likes to fight.”

Strickland beat Israel Adesanya for the title at UFC 293 in September last year.

The 32-year-old American claims that he’s a better fighter than Du Plessis but that the South African’s grit will make it a “tough fight”. 

“Is he the best? Probably not,” Strickland said. “But he goes in there and just fights to win, and that’s a hard fight.

“But I’m better than him. I’m a better grappler… I’m better at jiu-jitsu.”

A feud coming to a head

Although this is the first time the two hard-hitting middleweights will meet in the octagon, Strickland and Du Plessis have been at each other’s throats before.

At UFC 296 in Las Vegas last month, both fighters were there, conveniently seated two rows from each other.

With the cameras on both athletes, Strickland leapt over the seats and attacked Du Plessis, who landed a few punches himself.

“Anybody who thinks that was fake or staged, I wasn’t informed of that because I took some real punches,” Du Plessis said later.

Of course, the impromptu brawl did not start spontaneously. Two days earlier, at a pre-fight press conference, after taunts by Strickland, Du Plessis mentioned Strickland’s traumatic upbringing — being abused by his father – which angered the American.

dricus strickland

Sean Strickland of the United States celebrates his victory over Israel Adesanya of Nigeria to become the new middleweight champion of the world during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Australia on 10 September  2023. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Du Plessis has since said that what was said is behind them, and his only focus now is lifting the middleweight belt.

“I’m here to be the middleweight champion of the world,” the South African said. “Not making jokes, getting the crowd to laugh. No, that’s not why I’m here.

“The last press conference was [about] winning on the mic. That was beating Sean Strickland at his own game.

“Now, I’m not here to do that. I’m here to be the middleweight champion of the world. My focus is on fighting.

“I’ve already won that battle… Right now, the battle that needs to be won is the one this coming Saturday night and that’s where my mind is at – being ready mentally, physically and being in the best shape of my life.”

Strickland also acknowledged that the two athletes are amicable at the moment, with his prime focus being his “job” ahead.

“This is my job,” the fighter said. “My job is to fight you for five rounds and try to put you away and that’s all it is.

“We don’t go in there angry. We’re at this [elite] level.”

For Du Plessis, his only concern was that Strickland, known for his unpredictability, was sabotaging the fight. It was one of the reasons he decided not to take legal action after the earlier unprovoked brawl.

“The fight that happened in the crowd… that was the biggest concern for me… that the fight could be in jeopardy. I’m really happy it wasn’t,” he said.

An unlikely champion

Strickland’s win over Adesanya last year came as a massive shock. The New Zealander is the second most successful UFC middleweight fighter of all time, while Strickland lost two fights in 2o22 before going on a three-streak win culminating in his title win.

Similarly, Du Plessis has only been in the UFC since 2020 and has rapidly climbed the rankings.

Du Plessis and Adesanya looked primed for the title fight, with the two aiming words at each other at every opportunity. Adesanya went as far as stepping into the ring after Du Plessis’ surprise win over Robert Whittaker at UFC 290 last year.

Adesanya has since backed the South African to take the championship belt off Strickland on Sunday morning.

“I don’t consider that a good thing or a bad thing,” Du Plessis said about Adesanya’s assessment.

“I’m happy when somebody thinks I’m going to win because even though we have our differences as people and as one man to another, as fighters I can only say good things about Adesanya.

“He’s had some terrible fights where he’s won [while] running, but he’s had some amazing fights [too]… some of the best fights we’ve seen.

“This is one martial artist recognising another. It’s great to see somebody like that know that you have what it takes.”

The five-round bout will start around 5am on Sunday, after the preliminary fights. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    In respect of an article a couple days back concerning the support du Plessis from the Sprinboks, I posted my disquiet at the Daily Maverick’s giving attention to what I styled as ‘barbarism’. This attracted a fair amount of ad hominen blowback which I engaged with. Having checked out some YouTube videos showing du Plessis in action, both in and out of the octagon (with the OTT agressive machisimo and swagger that seems a mandatory feature of this and other engagements wherein victory is achieved through the infliction pain and trauma), I am even more of the view that such a spectacle should not qualify as a sport. Think about the meaning of the word and what it implies as to the behaviour of participants, especially in how they interact with those they are in competition against. But I do fully understand that mine is a minority view and that such displays of brutality have been constants throughout history. (Think of the Roman colloseum and what took place there.) My gripe is that a publication that I have so much respect for choses to promote this kind of thing. Am I wrong in my surmise that a healthy injection of cash from Banxso has anything to do with it. Daily Maverick, I would greatly appreciate your thinking around this.

    • Andre Grobler says:

      Ignoring the capacity for violence in humans, and also not cultivating it, is trying to make us into something we are not, there is a spectrum of people, some are more capable of violence than others, suppressing it is not wise. It will come out somewhere rather have structures that celebrate the human spirit and ability. On the one end you have violent sociopaths and criminals – on the other side you have ethical people capable of violence… only difference is that they uphold the same values as the middle. I would rather applaud those capable individuals, rather than relegate them to the other side of the spectrum…

    • Sat Smi says:

      I think that soccer hooligans are the true barbarians. UFC and martial arts have real rules and the fighters (mostly) respect one another (other than trash talk for the hype)

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