Dricus Du Plessis was down in the cards and fought through the majority of UFC 297’s main event with his left eye nearly swollen shut. He nevertheless managed to become a champion despite it.
On Saturday in Toronto, the South African challenger finished off a quick rise up the division by defeating the currently defending middleweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Sean Strickland, by a split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48).
The UFC has never had a champion from South Africa before, and Du Plessis is the first.
Strickland was in command of the situation at the beginning of the bout, standing tall and working the jab with composure.
— UFC (@ufc) January 21, 2024
There were a few instances in which Du Plessis was able to break through that defense, including a successful takedown that was otherwise unsuccessful; however, the round was ultimately won by the champion.
“He possesses a jab that is extremely, extremely tough. Due to the fact that he is only holding a fist, it is almost as if he does not open his hand,” Du Plessis stated during the show. “Every time he hits you with that jab, it feels like someone hit you with a rock.”
At that point, Du Plessis would have reached the final round in which he did not at least have a point of contention to win the round.
In the second round, both fighters began to exhibit clear signs of damage, with Du Plessis displaying a swollen eye and Strickland displaying a thin trickle of blood coming from around his left eye and right eye.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 21, 2024
Strickland once more concentrated on the jab, and Du Plessis once more made a breakthrough at various points.
The corner of Du Plessis asked him to increase the urgency in the third round, and he complied with their request.
Evidently, he was victorious in the round; however, the most significant event occurred in the fourth round, when Du Plessis delivered an elbow that caused a significant cut to appear on the left side of Strickland’s face. After three more takedowns, Du Plessis finished the round with a victory.
It appeared as though Du Plessis was either ahead of the competition or tied as the fifth round approached. Even though he had the momentum, Strickland was able to find a solution.
When the battle was down to its final minute, Strickland was once again connecting with combinations, which could have been sufficient to win the fight if more than one judge declared the fight tied after the fourth rounds.
The calculations, on the other hand, gave Du Plessis the upper hand. A bout that had seen some bad blood a month earlier, when Strickland rained strikes down on Du Plessis at UFC 296, came to an end with both competitors embracing each other as the final bell rang.
The fact that Du Plessis was able to perform well in the championship rounds, which he had never done previously in his career, was something that he considered to be a source of high pride.
If I’m being completely honest, I believed that it was going to be a tough call because of the takedowns that I wasn’t sure about. In the first round, I very certainly gave him the upper hand,” Du Plessis stated.
It seems to me that the first three rounds were a game of give and take, but the last two rounds… who is to say that this guy isn’t a fighter who can compete in five rounds? What exactly did I say to you?
Next for Dricus Du Plessis?
This is disheartening for Strickland after defeating Israel Adesanya to win the belt, and he can only hope the UFC wants a rematch.
Options abound in the promotion. Adesanya was Du Plessis’ initial choice for his next opponent. Du Plessis was poised to challenge Adesanya until Strickland was unexpectedly chosen as the next belt contender.
See you soon biplisi ufc300
— Khamzat Chimaev (@KChimaev) January 21, 2024
“Israel Adesanya, get your ass back in the UFC so we can settle the score,” added Du Plessis.
Khamzat Chimaev, the unpredictable, had shown interest in appearing at UFC 300.