Monday Mailbag: Can Dricus du Plessis bring stability to the UFC middleweight division?

UFC 297 went down this past Saturday in Toronto and let’s just be honest: It was not the best fight card we’ve ever seen. That being said, some things did happen. Two new champions were crowned, one new contender emerged, and the great Canadian had one of the most impressive implosions in recent memory. So let’s talk about all the fallout from UFC 297.

Dricus du Plessis

For the fourth time in 14 months, we have a new UFC middleweight champion. On Saturday, Dricus du Plessis took a split decision win over Sean Strickland to claim the title, and there’s a lot to unpack here.

For starters, some people are claiming robbery. Those people are morons. This was not a robbery, it was simply a very close fight. If you believe Strickland won, that’s reasonable. But to believe that Strickland won beyond a shadow of a doubt is obvious Stan stuff, and given how not particularly interesting Strickland is in the cage, it probably means you have ulterior motives.

But to get back to the question at hand, is DDP the man to bring stability back to 185? If I had to guess, I’d say no. But I wouldn’t bet against him either.

Du Plessis will likely be underestimated by many for most of his career because the way he fights isn’t always pretty. The man is not exactly a technician on the feet (though he sort of is one on the mat), and at times he can look downright ugly. But underneath all that is a fighter who pretty clearly has a good understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, and who studies his opponents extremely well. At any given time in a fight, DDP is usually making the right choice, even if the mechanics aren’t pristine. Pair that with his brute physicality and that makes him an extremely tough out for anyone at 185. He’s sort of like Yoel Romero, if you swapped out some of Romero’s athleticism points in favor of volume. That’s one dangerous man.

That being said, because he has limitations, every opponent will have a shot at beating him if they come with a good game plan, can adapt on the fly, and can bear up to the offense he’ll put out. Or, in the case of one dude we shall talk about in a moment, simply out-physical him.

UFC 300

After UFC 297, the conversation quickly turned to UFC 300 as rumors have been flying around that the winner of the 297 main event would, hopefully, make a quick turnaround to headline 300. In his post-fight presser, du Plessis seemed open to the idea, and now it’s just a question of if it will happen. If it doesn’t, UFC 300 is in need of some help atop it, but there are other options available.

If I’m ranking the three choices presented, DDP vs. Alex Pereira is clearly last. No more champ-champ fights. Defend titles. Stop this nonsense. I never want champ-champ fights, ever.

Along those same lines, DDP vs. Strickland 2 is also not interesting. It was a good fight and a close fight, but it was not a robbery. I have long said that immediate rematches should only happen in the case of clear robbery or trilogy bouts (and even that I’m a bit unsure of). Strickland needs to go beat someone to get back in line. Losing has consequences.

That leaves us with DDP vs. Israel Adesanya, which I have been saying for weeks is the most likely outcome. Izzy is a major star and there is long-standing heat between the two of them. Would the fight theoretically be better in Africa? Sure, but it’s time. Strike while the iron is hot.

There is still a dark horse candidate to headline UFC 300 though, and it would be the biggest fight of them all, from an interest drawing standpoint. If for some reason DDP is unable to turnaround in three months, Adesanya vs. Pereira 3 (or 5, depending on how you view it) for the light heavyweight title would draw the most attention. Personally, I’d kind of hate it because light heavyweight has other contenders, but that is still in play.


I think you may be confused how suspensions work. He’s not suspended from training. There is no enforcement mechanism to do that. He’ll be suspended from competition. But DDP can, and probably will, be back in the gym next week. That gives him 11 weeks of prep time for Adesanya. Now, that’s still probably not ideal situation for DDP, however, he’s also probably been preparing for Adesanya for years already. That’s how it goes when you’re the champion, everyone is planning to take a shot at you eventually.

Now, if DDP suffered an injury of some kind that we don’t know about yet, then yeah, he’s for sure out of 300. But facial swelling doesn’t mean broken bones, so I still think it’s most likely that he will make that turnaround. And if not, International Fight Week is also certainly an option for that fight.

Dricus du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya

Not really. I’ve always thought that a fight between Adesanya and du Plessis would be compelling because the way du Plessis fights, Izzy won’t be able to do his super-boring counter calf-kicker thing. Adesanya wants to throw countershots and DDP will give him ample opportunity. That means Izzy has a real shot at winning, but also, I think 20 years of fist-fighting is catching up to him and that makes DDP the favorite in my book.

As for Strickland, because how close the fight was, I think he could sit out and wait and get a shot at the winner of DDP vs. Izzy. But we all know Strickland isn’t going to do that. He’ll get itchy knuckles before long and, I suspect, we’ll get Strickland vs. Khamzat Chimaev in a title eliminator.

As for the final question, we’ll come to that in a bit.

Raquel Pennington, UFC women’s bantamweight champion

No, it’s not just you.

In the co-main event of UFC 297, Raquel Pennington finally won UFC gold, taking home a clear-cut decision over Mayra Bueno Silva, in a fight she largely dominated. Congratulations to her, she deserves the win and it’s nice to see a long-standing fighter finally break through. But holy jeebus this division is dire right now.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Pennington has been able to accomplish in her career, but I don’t think there’s a person alive who would argue that she’s compelling television. This is Pennington’s eleventh year in the UFC, she has 18 fights in the promotion, and one bonus to her name. Ten of her 13 UFC wins are decisions and three of those are splits! She is simply not a fun fighter to watch. That’s the new champion. Ouch.

Adding onto that, not counting herself, Pennington has already fought seven of the top-10 bantamweights in the UFC’s rankings. If Pennington beats Julianna Peña, then she’s almost guaranteed a rematch for her next fight. And it won’t be a rematch of a good fight.

And worst of all, there are no reinforcements coming. Of the top-15, one of them is under 30 years old. What once was the marquee division of women’s MMA has completely collapsed in the final few years and I honestly don’t know how it gets back on track.

Amanda Nunes is not coming

Amanda Nunes is not coming. There is no reason for her to come back. She got out at the perfect time. She’s the GOAT of WMMA, she has plenty of money, and she’s seems to be living a great life. Also, she and Pennington are on good terms. Absolutely no chance she returns.

Julianna Peña is getting the next title shot. Does she deserve it? I don’t know. She did beat Amanda that one time, so that’s cool. But also, she hasn’t beaten anyone else. But whatever, she talks and that’s enough in this barren wasteland of a weight class.

Maybe Valentina Shevchenko will just decide she doesn’t care about fighting Grasso and will jump back up to 135. At least that would be something, if only for a little bit.

Movsar Evloev, contender

Movsar Evloev will fight for a title in his next bout, that’s how close he is.

Evloev is now 18-0 in his career and he finally has a win over a top-five opponent. That was the final thing missing from his title shot résumé. Given how featherweight currently sits, he’s the only viable option for next up. The question is simply when will it happen?

If Ilia Topuria pulls off the upset against Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298, then Volk will almost certainly get an immediate rematch. If that happens, Evloev will have to wait, but probably still gets a title shot before the end of the year, especially given that Max Holloway is now tied up at lightweight. But if Volk wins, then he’ll need another contender, and Evloev is next man up. He could be fighting for the belt by the summer.

Also, it’s so stupid that title eliminator bouts are three rounds. That fight deserved another 10 minutes, but this sport is very, very silly.

Neil Magny

In the featured fight at UFC 297, Neil Magny scored a ridiculous last-minute comeback win over Canada’s Mike Malott, who had dominated the entire fight until simply imploding in the final 90 seconds. It was real veteran savvy from Magny and just added to his already record number of wins in the UFC’s welterweight division. And this is a great question about what exactly those wins mean.

I do not believe Neil Magny is a Hall of Famer. I do believe Jim Miller is a Hall of Famer. The case for the Hall of Fame in both instances relies on similar arguments, but in Magny’s case, he’s missing a certain ineffable quality that gets him over the line.

Think about it: Would you call Neil Magny a “legend” of MMA? No. I don’t think anyone would. For one reason or another he simply has not connected with fans in that way. He’s just a dude who has clocked in and done an admirable job for a decade. Yes, he owns a number of divisional records, and yes, his longevity is worth celebrating, but is he on that tier? I don’t think so.

Personally, I view Magny as someone like Martin Kampmann: A damn good fighter who is worth remembering, but not worth enshrining. That’s tough for Magny but them’s the breaks. Literally until Saturday night, Raquel Pennington was in the exact same boat. Now, though extreme good fortune, Pennington is a champion and thus, that enhances her case for the Hall. But without something like that, without a signature Grand Moment or a deep-seated connection with the fan base, Magny is probably never getting in.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets (Xs?)! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again and see y’all next week.

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