Dricus Du Plessis has successfully become the first South African UFC champion by defeating Sean Strickland in a closely-contested decision at UFC 297. Du Plessis silenced his doubters by turning up the volume in the later rounds and exhausting his American rival.
The face-off is intense! Surprisingly, they touch gloves. Strickland is straight on the gas with his jab and teep. Du Plessis comes close with a high kick. Strickland checks a strong kick from Du Plessis. Strickland continues to prod with his long-range weapons, checking kicks along the way; Du Plessis looks puzzled. Strickland cuts the bridge of Du Plessis’ nose with his jab. Du Plessis shoots a takedown, barrelling Strickland to the cage. Strickland gets to his feet but the South African returns him to his knees. Du Plessis disengages and the striking resumes.
Strickland’s round, his jab cutting through Du Plessis’ guard like butter. In the closing seconds, Strickland wings a strong right hand that thuds his opponent right on the shoulder.
Du Plessis swings wide, barely missing a right hook. Strickland checks another kick. Du Plessis attempts a spinning back fist, but it doesn’t land flush. Du Plessis loses his footing after a Strickland jab, causing the crowd to gasp. Strickland’s defense is impeccable so far. Du Plessis adds a roundhouse to the end of his boxing, thudding Strickland in the side — the American looks unphased. “Stillknocks” lands another takedown, and Strickland smoothly reverses. Both men are bleeding now, with the South African’s left eye swelling shut from the jabs. Round two is in the books.
Du Plessis’ left eye is almost completely shut. He wings a huge overhand left which misses. Du Plessis touches Strickland’s chin with a high kick. Strickland stabs Du Plessis with jabs and front kicks. With more swings and more misses by Du Plessis, Strickland pops his head back with the jab. Du Plessis is pushing the pace but his face is wearing the damage. Du Plessis will enter the fourth round for the first time in his professional career.
The championship rounds. Strickland picks it up, but the danger of Du Plessis’ power is ever-present. Du Plessis cuts Strickland over the left eye with a long right hand. The fight is getting ugly as both men trade shots — Strickland is bleeding profusely. Strickland slips a punch and clinches Du Plessis, who lands a nice trip. The champ stands up against the fence with Du Plessis on his rear. They break… a good right hand from the challenger, he doubles it up. The Du Plessis head kick lands again. Du Plessis lands another takedown! Strickland’s eye might be hindering his vision.
Du Plessis lands a suplex! It was ineffective but certainly a fan-pleaser. Strickland is starting to move fatigued. “Tarzan” overreacts to Du Plessis’ winging hooks — he might set himself up for a big shot in the fifth round. This was Du Plessis’ best round of the fight.
All cheers for the final round. Strickland’s cornermen try to channel his inner child. Du Plessis tries a spinning elbow off a caught kick. Strickland exchanges his Philly shell for a high guard, he’s fighting more aggressively. It’s a dog fight in round five, who has the most heart, who wants it the most? Strickland stuffs a takedown, his jab is still sharp. Strickland lands a nice right hand straight down the pipe. Strickland prevents another takedown. They trade wide, clubbing shots. Final minute.
Strickland finds his range and his second wind. They’re both going for it in the final stretch. It’s a close one, no sure winner.
Dricus Du Plessis wins by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48)
Stick with MMA Knockout for more daily coverage of the UFC and MMA
Mathew is a UK-based combat sports journalist. He currently works for MMA Knockout, part of the Sports Illustrated FanNation network. The Fight Fanatic is Mathew’s one-man operation. His past bylines include Heavy on UFC, Sportskeeda, and MMA UK.
Contact Mathew via Twitter or through [email protected]