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Dricus Du Plessis has a plan, and it continues at UFC 276

IT HAS BEEN almost a year since South Africa’s Dricus Du Plessis (16-2) entered the Octagon – a successful UFC 264 appearance last July that lasted just two rounds and knocked out Trevin Giles. But his quest for return has been a protracted struggle, complete with injuries, changes of opponents, fight cancellations and incredible frustration.

The wait will end on July 2 when he faces his toughest opponent yet – Brad Tavares (19-7) – at T-Mobile Arena at UFC 276, a card preceded by the middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya (22-1 ) and Jared Canonnier (15-5).

Despite Saturday’s challenge, Du Plessis remains forward-thinking and determined to fight Kelvin Gastelum, who he was previously set to face. “He owes me this fight. He took the food from my table.”

But this is about more than just a fight. It’s about being the best in a sport where every single fighter believes they are the best at what they do. The only difference is that Du Plessis is ready to prove it.


GET FOOD ON Tables are in Du Plessis’ blood, and it’s personal. Raised on a farm outside of Pretoria, Du Plessis’ agricultural upbringing is no stranger to many South Africans.

Still, Du Plessis says he is distinguished by his father’s upbringing, the accomplishments of his brothers, and the impact of farm life on his career prospects.

“Growing up as a South African, farming was part of my whole life,” he said. “My father, my brothers and my whole family come from this environment. [A farmer’s] Work ethic is something that was instilled in me. The work ethic of working for what you want.

“You grow up thinking that ‘nothing comes easy.’ When there’s a problem, you have to find a solution… and whatever it is, you’ll work hard every day, no matter what, you really have a choice in the matter.

“It’s something that was drummed into me. That’s a way of life as a South African. That’s how my dad raised me and I can’t be thankful enough.”

As a result, Du Plessis, who holds a second-degree black belt in kickboxing, believes in his abilities.

“If you don’t have that hunger and aren’t willing to work to be the best, you will always be second best, and nobody knows who second best is.”


THE WORK, THE Du Plessis, which he brought in as a martial artist during his younger days, is why he excels today. As a WAKO Junior K-1 World Champion, KSW World Welterweight Champion, EFC World Welterweight and Middleweight Champion, who graduated from the UFC in 2020, it’s no surprise that Du Plessis proved himself in his first two UFC fights felt like home.

“Getting my first two wins by knockout was absolutely amazing,” he said. “We always knew I had strength in my hands, especially at 185 pounds. [It was great] to finally get those knockouts and see the hard work at stand-up pay off.”

He was well on his way and starting to make waves at middleweight. A premature shoulder injury then required surgery and pulled Du Plessis out of his third game, scheduled for December 11, 2021 against Andre Muniz (22-4).

That was the first of many hurdles.

A successful recovery from injuries set up Du Plessis’ third fight, an undercard UFC 273 fight against Chris Curtis (28-8). However, just under a month before the April 9 fight, the American retired through injury and was replaced by fellow countryman Anthony Hernandez (9-2).

After Du Plessis shrugged off the switch and braced himself for a Hernandez fight, he was offered an irresistible main card opportunity against Gastelum (17-8) at 10th place middleweight – an offer confirmed just 10 days before fight night.

A week before their clash, Du Plessis received a call at Dubai International Airport telling him that UFC officials said Gastelum had pulled out of the fight due to an undisclosed injury and Du Plessis would be pulled completely from the card.

“I was already on my way to the United States when they called me about the Gastelum fight,” Du Plessis recalled. “I felt in the best shape of my life. I knew that anyone who intervened that night would get a beating.

“[When I got the fight] I was so happy with Kelvin and I felt like the stars aligned but I guess they didn’t… “He was a hero to me in the MMA world but he’s not a hero anymore, he is my competition.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. It just means that my vision has shifted from looking up to him to someone who is at my level now and someone I need to overcome to get to the top and I will do that.”

While Du Plessis has a healthy amount of respect for Gastelum, the late withdrawal left a sour taste in his mouth and he says he still has scores to settle with him.


YOU HAVE PLESSIS managed to see the silver lining in the fight cancellations and turned the setback into a training camp advantage.

He stayed in America to stay focused, train with and compete against the UFC elite.

“After the last fight I went straight to SanfordMMA in Florida to train with the best fighters in the world. Michael Chandler, Kamaru Usman and several other UFC fighters.”

“The amount of skills I’ve acquired and the amount of work I’ve put in will only matter at this camp. We just put all this hard work on ourselves [for UFC 273] and put it right in this warehouse. We’re not starting from scratch, we basically had 10 weeks to prepare.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Du Plessis had trained at Sanford but spent nearly two years away from the gym. Respected coach Henri Hooft saw a significant improvement in Du Plessis’ skills during this break.

“He’s doing a great job in his gym back home in Africa,” said Hooft. “His coaches are obviously doing the right thing because he gets better every time I see him.

“Our gym is at a very high level and we have a lot of really good fighters. But everyone likes to work with him. He’s really good and very strong, so I’m always happy when he’s around.”

With a perfect UFC record that includes a first-round and second-round knockout, Du Plessis has shown no lack of power in his standup game. Though many thought of him as more of a grappler in his EFC days, the middleweight division has significantly expanded his attacking arsenal.

“He has power. He only has to touch you once,” Hooft said. “He’s an explosive guy with a lot of experience…Dricus himself is a different kind of athlete. You have someone who is an athlete and someone who is a fighter. There’s a big difference between the two – but it’s both. “

On paper, Tavares is Du Plessis’ toughest career fight to date. But in keeping with his character, Du Plessis is confident that he can overcome it. He understands the challenge the American poses but is adamant his hand will be raised as the result of a spectacular win.

“I think Brad Tavares is a much tougher fight than Kelvin Gastelum. I think Tavares is an extremely great athlete. He’s badass.

“He went the distance with Yoel Romero (15-5). He went the distance with Adesanya (22-1). He’s such a tough fighter who can take penalties. My game plan is to go out there and Brad To take down Tavares in three rounds what the champion couldn’t do in five, and that should be a pretty good statement.”

While preparing for this fight, the wayward fighter sometimes still finds himself grappling with doubts and another possible cancellation. However, with a mental coach by his side, he hopes to put those concerns out of his mind.

“A big part of my mental training and mentality is to stay sane,” he said. “You can’t think about what happened, you have to eliminate it.”

“I always feel like the only thing I can control is my preparation. I can’t control anything else. [The fight cancellations] were very frustrating and a massive disappointment. Especially after a long camp, especially after being called out to go out there. I had a whole country behind me, it was so exciting.”

An undisturbed mindset with a clear goal and ambition is one of Du Plessis’ most important characteristics. He is familiar with adversity, and the knowledge that it will be a part of his UFC journey holds him tight.

“The most important thing is to become a champion,” he said. “That’s always my mindset. No matter what happens, no matter how it happens, you deal with it. There will be adversity in all aspects of life. I will face this adversity and I will come out of it stronger.

“I use that frustration as fuel to make myself stronger mentally and physically. [All of this time off] makes me hungry to get in there. The longer they wait to fight me, the better I’ll be.

“I have the ultimate goal, which is to be the greatest fighter that has ever walked the earth. And to achieve that, I need to follow steps…

I want to be the kind of champion that gets that pound-for-pound number one spot and spectacularly holds that spot so no one can deny that I’m the greatest of all time.

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34155840/dricus-du-plessis-plan-continues-ufc-276 Dricus Du Plessis has a plan, and it continues at UFC 276

Emma Bowman

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