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Now They Know: Du Plessis Proved Several Points

Dricus du Plessis hammered home several points when he defeated Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 297 in Toronto on Sunday morning to become the first-ever South African UFC champion, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Dricus Du Plessis

Dricus du Plessis hammered home several points when he defeated Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 297 in Toronto on Sunday morning to become the first-ever South African UFC champion, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

In a bloody back-and-forth battle, the fighting pride of South Africa fulfilled his destiny as he beat his game American adversary by split decision at the Scotiabank Arena to etch his name in history.

In a highly technical war of attrition that netted both combatants an extra $50,000 for Fight of the Night, “Stillknocks” showcased heart, skill and fight IQ in equal measure to reach the pinnacle of mixed martial arts.

Heading into Sunday’s showdown in the Great White North, the apex predator from Pretoria had won all six of his fights inside the Octagon, five of them by finish.

After shocking the world by walking through former champion Robert Whittaker last July, he coined his now-famous phrase: “Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie” (They don’t know what we know).

As impressive as the second-round TKO win over “The Reaper” was, a large portion of international MMA pundits still questioned aspects of Du Plessis’ game and whether he was championship material.

After going toe-to-toe and toppling “Tarzan” at the weekend, the 30-year-old proudly proclaimed, “Suid-Afrika, nou weet hulle wat ons weet!” (South Africa, now they know what we know).

Indeed, now they know.

Now they know what Du Plessis and seasoned South African MMA experts knew all along, that the baddest man in South Africa is the total package. Moreover, he proved with his title triumph that:

1: He’s The Best Middleweight In The World

In what was a close and thrilling fight, Du Plessis did enough to achieve his destiny. Like two of the three judges, I scored the five-round combat chess match three rounds to two in favour of the new 185-pound king.

It’s clear in my mind that Mzanzi’s finest won rounds two to four, with Strickland starting and finishing strong to win the first and final rounds.

With that, Du Plessis proved he’s the best middleweight on the planet, a position of power those who’d followed his career since the start knew he had the God-given talent and singular focus to attain, even though no other South African had come close to claiming UFC gold before him.

2: He’s Stone Cold

All week, Du Plessis was a man on a mission. Dialled in, he handled the extra media obligations and pressure that come with headlining his maiden UFC pay-per-view main event like a champ.

With the hopes of a nation on his shoulders and over 100 of his family and friends having made the trip to freezing Toronto, the South African savage was under immense pressure and yet, he was a picture of composure when he made the walk to the Octagon and during Bruce Buffer’s famous fighter introductions.

He remained a stone-cold assassin throughout, showing the type of mental fortitude that separates the great from the good.

3: He’s Not A Blitzing Brawler

Many analysts who’ve only watched Du Plessis’ UFC career were of the opinion that he was a brawler with dangerous blitzes.

Had they followed his career in the South African-based EFC, where he also made history by becoming the promotion’s first two-division champion, and his stint in Poland-based promotion KSW, where he won the welterweight championship in 2018, they would’ve known he’s far from a raging bull.

Yes, he’s a natural-born killer who prior to Sunday’s title tilt, had only gone to a decision once (against Brad Tavares in 2022) and had never seen a fourth round.

However, he proved he’s a predator with patience plus technique harking back to his original history-making ways when he became South Africa’s first-ever WAKO K-1 kickboxing world champion in 2012.

4: He Has Brains And Brawn

Much is made of the 1.85m, 84kg vessel of violence’s ripped physique, but most international pundits hadn’t seen his high-level fight IQ prior to the weekend’s war.

The fight with Strickland was either going to be won by brute force or a cerebral, excellently executed tactical game plan. Surprisingly, Du Plessis – as the more powerful and dynamic athlete and stronger wrestler – opted for the latter and it paid off in the biggest way possible.

The 30-year-old and his coaches at Team CIT, headed by Morne Visser, understood that it would take time to figure out the incredibly tricky “Tarzan”, one of the best pure boxers in the UFC and a unique puzzle to solve as the only fighter in the promotion to employ the Philly Shell, a stance used in boxing that’s mostly associated with Floyd Mayweather.

Therefore, he was content with giving up the first round, using the opening five-minute frame to download data while – crucially – staying on the front foot. The way he adjusted from the second round onwards was nothing short of masterful.

He constantly switched stances, incorporated feints, used a lot of kicks (his left body kicks, in particular, were money) and mixed in takedowns. He did all this while keeping Strickland on his heels, which was Du Plessis’ biggest key to victory.   

5: His Cardio Is World-class

The biggest criticism Du Plessis had received in his unbeaten UFC run was his supposed suspect cardio. He was called out by the commentators, particularly in his fights with Tavares and Darren Till, for slowing down and breathing through his mouth.

He then had nose surgery and looked like a new man in his mauling of Whittaker, but with the fight lasting less than eight minutes, many questioned if he – with his big, muscular frame for a middleweight – would be able to hang in the championship rounds, especially against a cardio machine-like Strickland.

It’s another box he ticked emphatically, one that should put the misconception to bed. 

6: He Has South African Spirit

Anyone who fights Strickland knows they’re going to be constantly tagged by his piston-like jab and “Stillknocks” was no exception.

As early as the second round, the South African’s left eye was swollen shut and it was only some top-tier work by the cut man at the end of that round that allowed him to regain some vision in it for the remainder of the fight.  

It was a tough, bloody battle with both men wearing it and having to persevere through the pain. It’s the most punishment Du Plessis has sustained in the Octagon and, like a true South African, he bit down on his mouthpiece and kept marching forward to the very end.

The pro-Strickland Canadian crowd couldn’t help but be won over by the spirited Springbok of the UFC with loud chants of “DDP” ringing out in the final round.

7: He’s A Businessman

Du Plessis knows it’s called the fight business for a reason, as he showed with his call-out of Israel Adesanya in his post-fight interview.

The pair have a brewing rivalry and were set to fight at UFC 293 in September after having a heated stare-down following Du Plessis’ win over Whittaker. A foot injury ruled Du Plessis out of the bout, though, with the shot instead going to Strickland, who went on to cause one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

A Du Plessis-Adesanya fight is the biggest that can be made at middleweight and would be the ideal main event for the first-ever UFC Africa event. It could come as soon as the landmark UFC 300 pay-per-view in Las Vegas on April 14, though.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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