For the second time in two UFC middleweight title fights, we have a new champion, as Dricus Du Plessis captured the title with a win in a closely combated fight with Sean Strickland in the UFC 297 main event.
Du Plessis focused on his leg kicks early on, as per usual, but Strickland picked up on it and started to check his low kicks. Strickland, meanwhile, started with working his jab. With just over a minute left in the round, Du Plessis scored a takedown and unleashed some offense before Strickland got back to his feet. Strickland, however, controlled the round behind his jab, and he caught Du Plessis's attention with a hard one before the horn.
Strickland continued this strategy in the second round, while Du Plessis focused on other kinds of strikes, namely overhands. A left hand caused Du Plessis to stumble, but over the course of the round, Du Plessis started to close the distance on Strickland. Additionally, Du Plessis scored another takedown on Strickland before the end of the round.
Du Plessis pressured Strickland in the third round, firing off low kicks despite being checked to try and set combinations up. Strickland did his fair share of damage, but Du Plessis continued to look to land on the inside. Du Plessis looked for a takedown again early in the fourth, but Strickland, bloodied up from a right hand by DDP, shook it off and landed an attention-grabbing right. Strickland continued to land with the right hand, but Du Plessis tripped him and briefly took him down again in the round. Both men continuing to find success with the jab (for Strickland) and right hand (for Du Plessis).
Strickland controlled the fifth and final round, landing a lot more than Du Plessis, but the fight was left in the judges' hands.
All three judges scored the fight 48-47, with two awarding the fight to Du Plessis, giving DDP the UFC middleweight championship.
This fight was highly anticipated thanks to an intense build up filled with plenty of heat and hatred. This included Strickland and Du Plessis getting into a brawl in the crowd during UFC 296, as well as barbs being traded between the two during press conferences and through the media.
This marked Strickland's first defense of the UFC middleweight title since claiming it from Israel Adesanya in one of the promotion's biggest upsets at UFC 293 in September. That marked Strickland's third straight victory.
Du Plessis, meanwhile, entered this fight a perfect 6-0 in the UFC and with finishes in 19 of his 20 professional MMA victories. After wins over Darren Till and Derek Brunson, Du Plessis earned a middleweight title shot with a knockout victory over former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 290 in July.