Johnny Eblen: ‘I’m just a step above’ UFC champion Dricus du Plessis

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Johnny Eblen faces a PFL champion this weekend, but he’s thought about how he’d fare against the UFC’s middleweight champion.

Currently No. 5 at 185 pounds in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, Eblen sits just a few spots behind Dricus du Plessis, who won a split decision over Sean Strickland at UFC 297 this past January to become UFC champion. Eblen brings Bellator’s middleweight title into his fight with PFL light heavyweight champion Impa Kasanganay this Saturday.

During an appearance on The MMA Hour, the undefeated Eblen expressed confidence in how a bout between he and du Plessis might play out.

“I think I match up with him really, really well,” Eblen said. “I think I’m a better striker technically. I’m a better boxer than him. I’m cleaner with my defense, cleaner with my strikes, I’m technically a better wrestler. I’ve wrestled since the age of four and he’s kind of a big, athletic guy that’s learned how to grapple and learned how to wrestle. I’ve been doing it since I was a young kid. I know how to flow with guys like Bo Nickal.

“I’m a college wrestler, but I can strike and I can grapple. I have the full package. I feel like he does too, but I’m just a step above him and I’m faster for sure. He might be a big, strong dude, but I’m faster and I have better cardio and I’m better technically than him in every facet.”

One fighter who could offer Eblen some pointers if he were ever to face off with the South African star? Sean Strickland himself.

Strickland went five rounds with du Plessis in the UFC 297 headliner and fell just one round on one judges’ scorecard short of retaining his title. The veteran is a mainstay at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, and Eblen has made it a point to train with Strickland whenever he gets the opportunity.

“Awesome,” Eblen said when asked what it was like working with Strickland. “Love training with Sean. He is one of my favorite people to spar because it’s like a fight.

“It’s always good training, usually when I out to Vegas I train with him pretty much the whole time. We’ll mix it up here and there. For the most part during the week we’ll train together a lot but we’ll mix in with other guys and train with other guys. But on Saturday we’ll PI, five rounds straight, let’s go. We lock ourselves in the cage and we just get after it, and every time we get together it’s always good rounds. I always feel like I get better after training with him.”

Eblen may not have the name recognition of Strickland or du Plessis yet, but he’s climbed the ranks one win at a time to the tune of a perfect 14-0 record. That run includes two successful Bellator middleweight title defenses. Now he looks to add a special PFL vs. Bellator belt to his collection when he fights Kasanganay on Saturday.

Kasanganay made a shocking run to the PFL light heavyweight tournament championship last season and drops back down to 185 pounds for a non-title bout against Eblen. PFL doesn’t currently host a middleweight division, so Kasanganay was the logical choice to face Eblen when the league decided to create a “champion vs. champion” event.

As far as Eblen knows, Kasanganay was always the first choice, and he expects his next fight to be a title defense against the winner of the March 22 bout between Fabian Edwards and Aaron Jeffery.

“This was really the only option that was discussed,” Eblen said. “I think it was up in the air to fight Derek Brunson, but I don’t think he wanted to fight this early or something, I think it was something on his end. That was like the main guy I wanted to fight.

“Then I was thinking that I was going to fight Impa or Jeffery, but now it looks like I’m going to fight Impa, and Jeffery is going to fight Fabian Edwards. … It looks like whoever wins that fight is going to fight for a title next and I’ll be defending my title against them.”

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