Jue. Feb 29th, 2024

TORONTO — The UFC has its first champion from South Africa.

Dricus Du Plessis dethroned Sean Strickland in an entertaining, bloody, back-and-forth fight Saturday night in the main event of UFC 297 here at Scotiabank Arena. The final result was a split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) for Du Plessis. It very easily could have gone Strickland’s way, too.

Upon the scorecards being read, Du Plessis called for the South African flag.

«This is history,» Du Plessis said in his postfight interview.

Strickland had a lot of success early in the fight with a nasty, piston-like jab. Du Plessis not only struggled to defend it but had trouble getting off his own offense due to that. Du Plessis called Strickland’s jab «super, super, super» good.

«It feels like somebody hits you with a rock,» he said. «It’s very deceptive when he throws the jab, and he can turn it into a left hook. He does that really, really well.»

In the fourth round, Du Plessis turned things around in a major way, cutting Strickland near his left eye and hurting Strickland with a big right hand. Strickland closed well in the fifth, but Du Plessis proved his meddle in a championship fight, silencing critics of his cardio.

«Who says I’m not a five-round fighter?» Du Plessis said.

Afterward, Du Plessis called for a matchup against rival Israel Adesanya, the former longtime UFC middleweight champion who has said he will be taking time off from the Octagon. Adesanya and Du Plessis had a confrontation in the cage last July. The two were supposed to fight last September, but Du Plessis suffered a foot injury.

Coming in, ESPN had Du Plessis ranked No. 2 and Strickland ranked No. 5 in the world at middleweight.

Du Plessis (21-2) has won nine straight and is 7-0 in the UFC. The Pretoria native was coming off a TKO win over former champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 290 last July. Du Plessis, 30, is a former two-division EFC champion and KSW champion.

Strickland (28-6), 32, won the middleweight title by shocking Adesanya via dominant unanimous decision at UFC 293 last September. The California native, who lives and trains in Las Vegas, had a three-fight winning streak snapped but has won eight of 11 since moving up to 185 pounds in 2020.

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