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UFC 297: Strickland v Du Plessis Predictions

On the doorstep of destiny, South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis gets his chance to become the middleweight champion of the world when he goes to war with reigning king Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 297 in Toronto on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


On the doorstep of destiny, South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis gets his chance to become the middleweight champion of the world when he goes to war with reigning king Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 297 in Toronto on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

A new champion will be crowned in the co-headliner at the Scotiabank Arena as Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva battle it out for the vacant bantamweight belt.

Two of Canada’s finest get the pay-per-view spotlight in Mike Malott and Marc-Andre Barriault, who meet Neil Magny and Chris Curtis at welterweight and middleweight respectively, while top-10 featherweights Arnold Allen and Movsar Evloev face off.

MAIN CARD (from 5 AM Sunday morning SA time):

Sean Strickland (1.76) v Dricus du Plessis (2.10) (Middleweight)

He’s the fighting pride of South Africa. A special athlete with extraordinary mental toughness. A prodigious pugilist. A seek-and-destroy fighter on the cusp of immortality.

He’s the most gifted and well-rounded mixed martial artist South Africa’s ever produced. His combat sports journey started with judo at the age of five before he added wrestling and striking to his arsenal and became South Africa’s first-ever WAKO K-1 kickboxing world champion in 2012.

He is Dricus du Plessis, aka “Stillknocks”, a 1.85m, 84kg vessel of violence whose dream of becoming the first-ever South African UFC champion will become a reality with a win in the heart of Canada this weekend.

I’ve had the pleasure of following his career since he first stepped into the cage as a fresh-faced teenager. Even then, when he announced his arrival on the professional MMA scene by beating Tshikangu Makuebo at EFC 21 in July 2013, it was evident he was a special breed of battler.

He went on to become the South African-based organisation’s first two-division champion, seizing the welterweight and middleweight belts, before putting himself on the global map by winning Poland-based promotion KSW’s welterweight championship in 2018. 

Since touching down in the UFC in October 2020, Du Plessis has personified a perfect storm and put South African mixed martial arts on the map. Unbeaten inside the Octagon, his six-fight win streak, which includes five finishes, is the longest active purple patch at 185 pounds and improved his record to 20-2.

His last performance was his best yet as he walked through Robert Whittaker, the most complete middleweight on the planet and former titleholder, as a sizeable underdog last July. The 29-year-old from Pretoria pummelled the Australian like no one had done before to claim a second-round TKO win and cement himself as the number-one contender.

In his post-fight interview, he coined his now-famous phrase: “Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie” (They don’t know what we know), a mantra SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus adopted during the Springboks’ successful Rugby World Cup title defence in France.

However, a foot injury ruled him out of a grudge match for the gold against Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 in September. The shot instead went to Strickland, who caused one of the biggest upsets in UFC history as he dethroned “The Last Stylebender” by decision.

Things got heated in a hurry between the headliners. In the seasonal press conference last month, the pair traded personal barbs. While Du Plessis stayed poised, Strickland became incensed and a few days later, they got into an Octagon-side brawl during UFC 296.

As calculated inside the Octagon as he is unhinged and outspoken outside of it, the American veteran was the 2023 Fighter of the Year with his title triumph being his third victory of the year and cap-stoned a tremendous turnaround after he’d lost two of his three fights the previous year.

“Tarzan” is a madman who’s as willing to take a life as he is to lose his own inside the ultimate battleground in combat sports. That said, he’s not the bloodthirsty shark Du Plessis is. He’s highly skilled across the board and while his record of 28 wins and five losses includes 11 knockouts and four submissions, a lack of power means he’s a metronomic fighter as opposed to a marauder.

Primarily a striker, Strickland is a tricky customer as he’s brought the Philly Shell over from boxing to MMA. The stance most associated with Floyd Mayweather makes him a tough target to hit if you stay at range as most of his opponents, including Adesanya, did.

Du Plessis won’t play that game.

He will pursue the champion as the pure predator he is. Brad Tavares remains the only man who’s gone the distance with Du Plessis, who has nine knockouts and 10 submissions to his name.

He, too, has what’s considered an unorthodox striking style, brewed up in the lab that is Team CIT. Yes, his goal is to win a fight, but that’s a by-product of his badassary. His core mission is to finish his foe and that ruthless aggression makes him a beast incarnate that’s incredibly tough to tame.

He’s Mr. Controlled Chaos, whose strength and power advantage over Strickland will be huge. The striking style I mentioned does leave him open to counters at times, but he has an excellent chin, which, coupled with Strickland’s lack of one-punch knockout power, will see the South African savage constantly move forward and hunt down his prey.

As a result, this fight won’t go the full five rounds that most of Strickland’s UFC battles have. As the more powerful puncher and the stronger and superior grappler, Mzanzi’s baddest patriot will stop Strickland to fulfil his destiny.

Prediction: Du Plessis by stoppage.
Best Bet: Du Plessis by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ at 2.65.
Alternative Bet: Du Plessis by KO/TKO/DQ at 3.00 or straight up at 2.10.

Raquel Pennington (2.36) v Mayra Bueno Silva (1.61) (Vacant Bantamweight Championship

The co-headliner will usher in a new era in the women’s bantamweight division as Pennington and Bueno Silva square off for the vacant championship.

With former champion Amanda Nunes retiring on top, the crown is up for the taking and two of the division’s surging contenders collide with immortality at stake.

Pennington (15-8) is on a five-fight win streak heading into her second shot at the belt, having fallen short in her maiden championship opportunity against Nunes back in 2018.

“Rocky” is a veteran technician who’s solid everywhere and adept at mixing everything together. She’s a fearless, high-pressure fighter and it’ll be interesting to see if she takes a more measured approach against her dangerous opponent.

Bueno Silva (10-2-1-NC) is unbeaten since moving back up to 135 pounds in 2022. Three straight wins earned her a main event clash with Holly Holm, and while the second-round submission win was later turned into a no-contest after the Brazilian tested positive for ADHD medication, the sight of “Sheetara” finishing the former champion provided further proof of her championship potential.

A submission specialist, Bueno Silva has seven wins by tap out and is the better athlete between the pair of co-main eventers. Much like in the headliner, there are two prevailing ways the fight could play out – the lethal finisher ending it early or the experienced tactician in Pennington winning a decision.  

Bueno Silva is such a beast and has pop in her punches as well, while Pennington hasn’t fought in a year, so she could be rusty. I’m banking on a sharper Bueno Silva to get her American adversary out of there and emerge as the new queen of the bantamweights.

Prediction: Bueno Silva by submission.
Best Bet: Bueno Silva by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ at 2.30.
Alternative Bet: Bueno Silva by submission at 2.65 or straight up at 1.61.

Neil Magny (3.80) v Mike Malott (1.28) (Welterweight)

The featured bout pits the decorated gatekeeper of the welterweight division in Magny (28-11) against a rising star in Canada’s Malott (10-1-1).

Magny holds the record for the most wins in welterweight history. His list of victims includes the likes of former champions Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks, as well as Carlos Condit and Kelvin Gastelum, making him a good veteran test for a hot prospect like “Proper.”

The No. 13-ranked “Haitian Sensation” has been consistently inconsistent in recent years, trading wins and losses in each of his last eight fights and is coming off a punishing loss to Ian Machado Garry last August.

Malott is the leader of the next wave of fighters from the Great White North. A pure predator, he boasts a 100% finish rate (four knockouts and six submissions) and fully intends to add Magny’s name to his hit list.  

Magny is long and rangy, which along with his experience, makes him a tricky puzzle to solve. However, Malott’s a blue-chipper whose explosiveness – further heightened by his home crowd – should see him score the biggest win of his career to break into the top 15.

Prediction: Malott by submission.

Best Bet: Malott by submission at 2.10.

Alternative Bet: Under 2.5 rounds at 1.50.

Chris Curtis (1.52) v Marc-Andre Barriault (2.60) (Middleweight)

The action will come thick and fast in this middleweight match-up. Title-holding headliner Strickland’s good friend and training partner at Xtreme Couture, Curtis (30-10-1NC) is a hard-hitting veteran looking to put a disappointing 2023 behind him.  

“The Action Man” lost on points to Kelvin Gastelum in April before his UFC 289 fight with Nassourdine Imavov was stopped due to a nasty cut opened by an accidental clash of heads.

Boasting 17 knockouts, fourteenth-ranked Curtis is a power puncher with strong fundamentals whose vast experience is invaluable.

Local favourite Barriault (16-6) enters on a two-fight win streak, having stopped Julian Marquez to take his KO tally to 10 before outpointing Eryk Anders last June.

“Powerbar” sure has power but he’s not the calibre of athlete Curtis is. The American is faster, more dynamic and a tad more technical, all of which should see him silence the crowd.

Prediction: Curtis by knockout.

Best Bet: Curtis by 1.52.

Alternative Bet: Curtis by KO/TKO/DQ at 3.40.

Arnold Allen (2.64) v Movsar Evloev (1.50) (Featherweight)

The winner of the main card opener could be next in line for a shot at the featherweight title.

Allen (19-2) returns after falling to former champion Max Holloway last April, a defeat that snapped a 10-fight win streak inside the Octagon. Things don’t get much easier for the fourth-ranked Brit as he goes from facing a legend to a rising star who is undefeated.

“Almighty” is an excellent fighter, though. He’s a fast, super-technical striker and he’s good on the ground as well.

Evloev has been nothing short of sensational in amassing a flawless record of 17-0, with seven of those wins coming in the UFC. Ranked night, he’s presented with a step up in competition to see if he can break into the top five.

Evloev is less of a finisher than Allen. Instead, he’s a wrestling-heavy tornado of perpetual motion and will likely look to tie up and ground Allen, who’s the superior striker.

As good as Evloev has been, Diego Lopes showed weaknesses in his game in his last fight that Allen can take advantage of and score points from to win on the judge’s scorecards as a juicy underdog.

Prediction: Allen by decision.

Best Bet: Allen at 2.64.

Alternative Bet: Allen by decision at 4.30.

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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