White acknowledged the five-round fight was extremely close, and both fighters definitely had their moments. He takes nothing away from du Plessis for his effort, but if he was scoring the fight, Strickland would be leaving Toronto with the UFC middleweight title still around his waist.
“We were just looking at how the media had scored it and right down the middle,” White said at the UFC 297 post-fight press conference. “I had it 2-2 going into the last round and I thought that Strickland won the last round. Guys who were sitting at the same table had it the other way. It was a close fight.”
Strickland started the fight strong with a lead jab that poured on a lot of punishment, but du Plessis weathered the storm and then delivered damage of his own during the bloody, back-and-forth battle.
White praised Strickland’s performance, particularly regarding his best weapon on the feet, which also played a massive part in winning the title this past September.
“I thought Strickland looked great in the first two rounds,” White said. “The jab was f****** beautiful. You don’t see jabs like that in MMA. The jab did what it was supposed to do. Both of [du Plessis’] eyes were swelling shut. He slowed down in the third and fourth, [and] du Plessis kept coming forward then started mixing up takedowns and punches.”
Ultimately, White felt the fight really came down to the final five minutes, and all three judges actually agreed that Strickland won that round.
“I had it even going into the fifth round, and this is the round to see who wants it,” White said. “They both started to turn it up a little bit. It’s just one of those tight fights, but I’m also one of these guys I believe you’ve got to take it from the champion.”
Despite his feelings on the decision, White didn’t cry robbery or feel like du Plessis didn’t deserve to celebrate his victory in becoming the new UFC middleweight champion. It’s also safe to say du Plessis disagreed with White’s assessment after learning that the UFC CEO scored the fight for Strickland.
“Just for the record, are there some people that think I lost the fight?” du Plessis said at the post-fight press conference. “Dana said [I lost the fight]? Well, bulls***.”
Immediately following his win, du Plessis wasted no time calling out former champion Israel Adesanya after they were originally expected to meet last year. Unfortunately, du Plessis suffered an injury that prevented him from competing, and it was Strickland who took his spot, making the most of it.
There’s no telling for certain if the UFC will shift gears toward du Plessis vs. Adesanya next, but it’s definitely possible, especially with Strickland likely back in line as a contender again.
Regardless how he scored the fight, or how the UFC 297 main event ended in a split decision, White admitted it’s highly unlikely Strickland would see du Plessis again right away.
“Eventually, these two are going to end up fighting again, I’m sure,” White said. “But we’re not thinking about an immediate rematch right now.”