On the back of a perfect 4-0 UFC record that included two knockouts and a submission, Dricus “Stillknocks” Du Plessis has surged into the middleweight rankings and possible contention.
Du Plessis, 29, is currently ranked #10 in the division and is looking to leapfrog #5 ranked Brunson on Saturday night.
Derek Brunson, informally called “Blonde Brunson” for his hairstyle is 39 and coming off his first loss since 2018. Prior to that loss, Brunson was on a five-fight winning streak with two finishes. Most recently, though, Brunson was knocked out in 2022.
Brunson vs. Du Plessis will feature on the UFC 285 preliminary card this weekend. Watch the entire Jones vs. Gane fight card live on ESPN+ PPV.
Du Plessis opened south of a 2:1 favorite but has spiked as UFC 285 has neared.
Du Plessis is an exceptionally entertaining fighter who, over the course of his last two fights has shown progression and growth in the cage. Du Plessis is, justifiably, most known for his striking and his power. He is primarily a switch stance kickboxer with a variety of snapping kicks that he can land from a variety of angles and distances. He carries heavy power in both hands and can put an opponent out quickly.
He uses athletic movement at range, often staying on the balls of his feet to add extra spring and explosion in his striking. While his movement is explosive, Du Plessis can, at times, recklessly rush in with little regard for his own defense. Because of his power and speed, though, even when Du Plessis disregards his own defense, his opponent is still at the same risk as he is.
When Du Plessis is more measured, which typically comes after a high octane and wild round 1, he stands at range with a higher guard and looks to break his opponent down with kicks. In most of his early fights, “Stillknock’s” approach of power kicks and wild haymakers against the cage was successful and resulted in several early finishes.
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Recently, however, he has shown a development in his game that adds an important skillset: grappling. Du Plessis’s primary criticism is that he can punch himself out and if an opponent can withstand the storm, then the opponent can push Du Plessis back. However, with his recent athletic grappling and ability to drag an opponent down from the cage to the mat, Du Plessis can take a break in rounds without needing to take a step back. Du Plessis is able to hold his opponent against the cage, take a few deep breaths, and then tee off again or drag them to the mat. His addition of clinch work and takedowns fills a large gap in his game.
Brunson, especially at 39, is about as predictable as they come in the cage. He is a strong, fundamental, and highly skilled wrestler, with a heavy overhand left from a southpaw stance, and a shaky chin. Back in the day, Brunson was a three-time DII All-American wrestler in college. He translated that skillset well into the cage, shooting power single and double legs, dragging opponents down, and using heavy top control to hold position.
On the feet, especially early in his career, Brunson carried real power and could shut the lights out with his left hand quickly. He’d also be able to find finishes on the mat with vicious ground and pound. More recently, possibly due to age, Brunson has slowed a bit and his finishes have lessened. He tends to favor position over finish on the mat; but, make no mistake, with his top control ability and extensive experience, when Brunson postures up, he can still rain down fire. The issue throughout his whole career has always been his chin.
Brunson’s striking, while he carries power, is rudimentary and slow. Couple basic and exploitable striking with a shaky chin and his 6 career knockout losses make more sense. Brunson, as he always does, will have to survive on the feet long enough to shoot a takedown and look for his own finish in this fight.
Prior to Brunson’s 2019-2021 run in the UFC, this fight would have car crash written all over it. However, Brunson showed an ability to deal with heavy-handed strikers and still find success with his wrestling. Brunson has a clear path to victory and proof that he can still implement that path even as he nears 40.
However, two key factors have me picking Du Plessis here.
Du Plessis is one of the most naturally athletic and strong fighters in the division with improved grappling of his own.
Second, Brunson has always struggled with speed and size while striking, both of which Du Plessis’ has in spades. Even if Brunson can get Du Plessis down, I don’t think he finds the finish and I don’t think he can rack up enough control time to keep him safe on the feet for 15 minutes.
I think Du Plessis finds the chin of Brunson at some point; and, when he does, it should be lights out. My specific bet will be Du Plessis inside the distance. I don’t see much value in narrowing the finish to KO only (+150), although that is the most likely finish.
Also, while I like Du Plessis to win, I’m not confident enough in him as a parlay piece, especially considering the number of other parlay options on the card.
Best Bet: Du Plessis to win inside the distance (-110 odds at MyBookie)