UFC 297 is now in the past and we have a new middleweight champion.
Against all odds, Dricus Du Plessis has now won nine consecutive fights including 7-0 in the UFC with his last two wins as an underdog. Du Plessis defeated champion Sean Strickland via a split decision in the UFC 297 main event to become the first South African champion in promotional history.
With a new champion being crowned, fresh matchups and challengers are always ripe. Due to his relatively quick rise in the UFC, many potential matchups in the middleweight top 10 are now plausible for Du Plessis' next title defense including his post-fight callout.
Fans have long been spreading rumors that Du Plessis will be a participant in the mysterious UFC 300 main event and with the 30-year-old now holding the belt, his potential rise to stardom and headline the iconic event is increasingly possible.
With that being said, here are three possible opponents for Du Plessis' first title defense.
1. Israel Adesanya
Starting with the most obvious, there is a high probability that Du Plessis' next fight will be against the former champion, Israel Adesanya.
If the champion's UFC 297 post-fight callout was not enough, the two rivals have already faced off in the Octagon following Du Plessis' knockout of Robert Whittaker at UFC 290. Adesanya held the belt at the time and claimed he "manifested" Du Plessis' win to make him the next title challenger.
At the time it was first rumored, the matchup mostly made sense due to Adesanya's lack of new title challengers and Du Plessis' comments of wanting to be the first "real" African champion. Though the tables have now turned with Du Plessis as the champion, the matchup is as good as ever.
Du Plessis is a smart businessman and will wait for this opportunity for a big payday. Even if this fight does not headline UFC 300, Du Plessis' next title fight appears likely to be against Adesanya given the UFC's attempt to build this rivalry.
2. Khamzat Chimaev
Technically, Dana White did grant Khamzat Chimaev a middleweight title shot by defeating Kamaru Usman on short notice at UFC 294.
While this fight could be on UFC 300, if Du Plessis fights on the landmark event it will likely be against Adesanya. However, if his title defense is not against the former champion, Chimaev could slip into the picture.
Chimaev is ranked just at No. 9 in the UFC's middleweight rankings but is a fan-favorite fighter who will sell pay-per-view tickets. His style does match up well with Du Plessis and for all of his shortcomings and lack of activity in the octagon, the UFC still likes him. Maybe Chimaev takes one more fight against a middleweight veteran but with Adesanya claiming to not even have resumed training yet, the promotion may dial his number.
3. Jared Cannonier
This fight is not likely to materialize but there is a path for it to happen. White has already ruled out a rematch with Strickland as Du Plessis' next fight and beyond Adesanya and Chimaev, there are no other plausible options for the new champion.
Jared Cannonier was the backup fighter for UFC 293 and while that does not guarantee him a title fight, it does prove how the UFC sees him. However, the way his first championship opportunity with Adesanya played out at UFC 276 does make it more difficult to re-enter the conversation.
Yet, if Adesanya remains out with an injury and Chimaev cannot take his place, the UFC will turn to Cannonier as a fill-in fighter similar to what Strickland was intended to be at UFC 293. That will only happen if Du Plessis wants to be active, which is not likely.
In all likelihood, Du Plessis will wait for the right opportunity and maximize his championship reign. The matchup with Adesanya is too lucrative to pass up on for all parties involved regardless of his last loss to Strickland.