3 Potential Opponents for Dricus du Plessis’s 1st Title Defense

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Dricus du Plessis became the UFC middleweight champion when he took a split decision over Sean Strickland at UFC 297 on Saturday.

Strickland and du Plessis went back and forth for 25 minutes, with Strickland out-landing the challenger and du Plessis landing big power shots. Two judges scored the fight 48-47 for du Plessis, with the dissenting judge scoring it 48-47 for Strickland. With du Plessis becoming the first South African-born champion in UFC history, it is time to look at who he might make his first title defense against. Here are three potential options:

Sean Strickland II

While the UFC doesn’t normally give title shots to a champion who loses the belt in the first defense, Strickland presented a strong case for victory. UFC CEO Dana White told reporters he thought Strickland won the fight, which bodes well for the American’s hopes of an immediate rematch.

Strickland said a headbutt cut him and messed with his vision, which is when du Plessis started connecting on him, he said on X.

“We all know I won…” Strickland posted. “The only reason why it wasn’t one-sided for 5 rounds is the headbutt took my eye….. Wasn’t touched till the blood took my vision.”

Strickland captured the middleweight title when he took a clear unanimous decision over two-time 185-champ Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 in September.

With controversy in the air and White thinking Strickland won, the UFC could very well go the route of du Plessis vs. Strickland II.

Israel Adesanya

Before Strickland got the title shot vs. Adesanya, many thought it would be du Plessis fighting Adesanya after du Plessis’s TKO win over former champion Robert Whittaker. Adesanya met du Plessis in the Octagon immediately after du Plessis’s win over Whittaker at UFC 290 for a heated faceoff. Adesanya, born in Nigeria before moving to New Zealand, and du Plessis had gone back and forth over African heritage.

There’s a back story there, and du Plessis knows it: He called out Adesanya after beating Strickland.

“There’s another guy trying to take my shine,” du Plessis told Daniel Cormier in the post-fight Octagon interview. “He lost his shine, now I have your shine. You didn’t get into the cage tonight, but Israel Adesanya, get your — back in the UFC so we can settle the score.”

While Adesanya is coming off a loss, he is the fight that the champion wants next, and it would sell pay-per-views. Adesanya has a long list of victims in the middleweight division. The UFC could very well book it.

Alex Pereira

Pereira is the former middleweight champion and current light heavyweight champion after he TKO’d Jiri Prochazka to win the title. While Pereira is 2-0 as a light heavyweight (his other win came over former champion Jan Blachowicz), he teased a possible move back down to middleweight.

“Maybe one last rodeo at middleweight?” he said on Instagram.

Pereira is 1-1 against former champion Adesanya in the UFC, after securing two wins over him in kickboxing, and he has a KO win over Strickland. Pereira has since befriended Strickland, cornering him against du Plessis. Pereira could be interested in winning back the middleweight title, though his “one last rodeo” comment implies he could vacate it with a win. The UFC may not go for that given the uncertainty a “Poatan” win would bring the division.

Pereira has a strong pedigree and could earn double champ status, a storyline the UFC loves. And du Plessis said it would be “an honour” to share the Octagon with Pereira. The UFC could very well go that route given former title challenger Jared Cannonier is recovering from a torn MCL, if the promotion was considering that route. Cannonier has a split decision win over Strickland.

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Michael is a big MMA fan who enjoys interviewing the sport's athletes, writing about the sport, and just discussing it. He earned his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and his B.A. in Journalism at Stony Brook University. He also enjoys hockey, football and baseball. Feel free to hit him up if you want to discuss MMA, or any other sport!

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