Dricus Du Plessis knows he may have ruffled some feathers at the UFC, but he’s not sure why.
In July, Du Plessis established himself as the clear-cut No. 1 contender for the middleweight title with a dominant second-round finish of Robert Whittaker at UFC 290. Unfortunately for Du Plessis, life moves fast in the UFC title picture, and when the South African fighter was unable to meet the UFC’s timeline of an eight-week turnaround to face Israel Adesanya, instead, the promotion gave the title shot to Sean Strickland. The American went on to author one of of the biggest upsets in recent memory, dominating Adesanya and taking the middleweight belt at UFC 293 this past weekend.
Now, UFC CEO Dana White is talking about a possible immediate rematch between Strickland and Adesanya and not-so-subtly suggesting that Du Plessis may have lost his right to a title shot. Du Plessis isn’t entirely sure what he did wrong.
“Nobody said anything like that,” Du Plessis said Wednesday on The MMA Hour when asked if he knew that turning down the fight could cost him a title shot. “I guess I thought about it, but I didn’t really fear it. I thought, this is the fight game, people get injured all the time. People get injured. I just went through one hell of a camp, I just fought three times in seven months. Three times in seven months, that’s a tall order. I fought Darren Till, Derek Brunson, and Robert Whittaker in seven months. That’s tough on the body.
“I honestly thought my commitment towards the company and my commitment to take fights when the UFC called — when they called and said, ‘We want to do a Whittaker fight,’ we took that fight. Everybody said how dumb I was to take that fight, because the Izzy fight could have been made. And I said, I’m not here to be smart, I’m here to fight. I took that fight without hesitation. That was kind of my saving grace. I’m injured. What do you want from me? There’s nothing I can do about it.”
On top of that, Du Plessis added that it’s not like this was brilliant planning on the UFC’s part. Scheduling an ostensible No. 1 contender match two months before the next title fight didn’t leave much room for error.
“My coaches, myself, me team, we were like, why would they do this?” Du Plessis said “Why would they put all of the Australian stars seven weeks before. Myself, [Alexander] Volkanovski, Whittaker — why would you put all of these stars on a show seven weeks before the Australia card. Why would they do that? That doesn’t make any sense. It if was four weeks later, 100 percent, I understand that. Because if you have 11 or 12 weeks for a turnaround. But seven weeks?”
Regardless, Du Plessis now seems to find himself on the outside looking in at the middleweight title picture. Strickland as champion opens up a number of other possibilities. Jared Cannonier, who won a decision over Strickland in December, served as the backup fighter at UFC 293 and could be in line for his own rematch with Strickland. Plus there’s the upcoming fight between Khamzat Chimaev and Paulo Costa at UFC 294 that is rumored to have title implications attached. For Du Plessis, Cannonier at least would make some sense, but the others, not so much.
“I think it made things interesting because the UFC is a little bit cross with me, maybe,” Du Plessis said. “They’re a little bit pissed off because I turned down the fight, which is totally unjustified I think, but at the end of the day, it’s not my decision to make. Did it hurt the stock? Not at all. People have been talking about me this whole time after that fight. So great.
“Khamzat-Costa, if they are favorites, I get that. But Costa’s ranked No. 6 and Khamzat’s not even in the rankings, so I don’t see how that makes sense. Cannonier makes more sense. And then of course, there’s one guy with No. 1 next to his name, the guy that beat Robert Whittaker, and that’s me. The way I see this is I’m fighting Sean Strickland, I’m beating him, and the roles will be reversed. I’ll be the champion and Izzy will be the challenger.”
Of course, all of those possible contenders appear to be stuck waiting behind Adesanya. After Adesanya dropped the middleweight title to Alex Pereira last year, the UFC gave him an immediate rematch, and the promotion appears inclined to do the same this time around. That’s the one outcome that would really stick in Du Plessis’ craw.
“I think that is probably the worst option,” Du Plessis said. “A rematch against Pereira is totally justified. He was winning a fight, he was how many years as champion? He was chasing GOAT status — 100 percent justified. But right now he’s three and two in his last five, and a title fight, this was his first defense as champion after becoming a two-time champion. Are we giving everybody an instant rematch if they lose their belt on the first try to defend it? Not fair. If he was winning the fight like he was winning the Pereira fight and then got clipped at the end, a rematch may be justified. But if you got dominated for five rounds, that’s not justifiable.
“The UFC, they’ve been talking about the problem in the middleweight division is Izzy has run through the whole division, some people twice. Now they have the opportunity, the division is open. You gave him the benefit of the doubt, you gave him his Get Out of Jail card by giving him the rematch against Pereira. You don’t get two of those. The division is open now, and right now, he needs to, just like the rest, earn his spot to fight for that belt again.”
Ultimately though, Du Plessis recognizes that things are out of his hands now. If the UFC decides not to go for the rematch, or simply chooses someone else to fight Strickland next, he doesn’t have much choice in the matter. So for him, the next few weeks are simply about reminding everyone exactly why he was in that position in the first place.
“What can I do?” Du Plessis said “We would probably look at what the options are. Are the going to do the rematch early and then three months later I’ll get my shot? Then it’s starting to make sense. There’s a lot of ifs and buts, but up until the UFC makes a decision, that’s when I start making my decisions. I can’t make any decisions up until they’ve made theirs. The only thing I can do right now is make my campaign to make sure they realize I deserve this title shot.”