Dricus du Plessis beats Sean Strickland to become SA’s first UFC world champion

Dricus Du Plessis of South Africa celebrates with the middleweight title belt following his win over Sean Strickland of the United States during UFC 297. Picture: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images / AFP

Dricus Du Plessis of South Africa celebrates with the middleweight title belt following his win over Sean Strickland of the United States during UFC 297. Picture: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images / AFP

Published Jan 21, 2024


“Coach, coach! I want my flag. I want my flag! This is history! Suid-Afrika, nou weet hulle wat ons weet! (South Africa, now they know what we know!)”

These words echoed through the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at the end of the UFC297 main event.

Dricus du Plessis made history when he dethroned the former champion, the United States’ Sean Strickland, to become the new UFC Middleweight champion and the first South African UFC champion after a grueling five-round fight this morning.

— UFC (@ufc) January 21, 2024

Strickland did well to stick to what he knew best, initiating his accurate Philly Shell boxing with beautiful power jabs and teep kicks to the body of Du Plessis.

The first and second rounds saw Strickland have the upper hand as Du Plessis battled to find range and close the distance with a few takedowns near the end of both rounds, landing only a handful of strikes to his opponent.

In the third, Du Plessis picked up the pace and showcased his work ethic and cardio despite his left eye swelling up due to the effective jabs from his American opponent.

As the South African aimed to break down the defence of Strickland, the latter was wise to the leg kicks of his opponent, checking them beautifully. Du Plessis then set up a beautiful trap and pulled out a left high kick, which landed flush, before putting together good combinations, including that infamous overhand left of his.

During the rounds, it was clear that Strickland’s corner was not happy with their man’s volume and encouraged him to pick up the pace, however, it was Du Plessis who proved to be the hungrier fighter as he continued to push forward.

In the fourth round, Du Plessis proved just how technical he could be as he switched up his stance before landing another big right to the face of Strickland, which cut open the champion as blood started streaming heavily down the American’s face.

Du Plessis then reverted to his wrestling game with a few effective takedowns, which seemed to weigh heavy on Strickland as the champion looked gassed.

As Strickland broke away, Du Plessis delivered an incredible transition with one big right hand and a heavy left kick to the body.

In the final championship round, Du Plessis attacked the calves of Strickland once again before chasing another takedown to get to work on the canvas and lock in a title win.

Strickland was, however, again the wiser and stuffed the takedown before shifting back to fighting behind his jab, which proved effective from the first bell.

Strickland gained some ascendancy in the final few minutes as he landed some crisp shots, notably one big overhand right.

However, it was too little, too late, as Du Plessis had done enough to cement his name in history as the first-ever born, bred, and trained African UFC champion with a 48-47 (Strickland) 48-47 (Du Plessis) 48-47 (Du Plessis) split decision win.

“Thank you so much, Canada,” said Du Plessis.

When asked about what this title meant to him and the people back in South Africa, Du Plessis responded: “Firstly, can I please get my South African flag? Secondly, I don’t know what to tell you right now, but you can probably hear all the South Africans outside, they are amazing,” said Du Plessis before calling out former champion Israel Adesanya.

“Israel, get back into the cage so that we can settle the score!”

Sports minister Zizi Kodwa was one of the first people to congratulate the champ on X, formally known as Twitter.

— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) January 21, 2024

“South Africans, we have an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion. Congratulations @dricusduplessis,” he posted.

“You have raised our country’s flag. Enjoy the moment. You have made the whole country proud! #UFC297 @ufc @SportArtsCultur”


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