UFC champion Sean Strickland

Sean Strickland will defend the UFC Middleweight Championship at UFC 297 this weekend when he meets Dricus Du Plessis in a five-round main event.

Sean Strickland steps back into the cage for the first time since defeating Israel Adesanya at UFC 293. Du Plessis earned his title shot following an unbeaten run in the UFC so far and a recent victory against former champ Robert Whittaker.

But who are we picking to win this one? Read on for our expert analysis and predictions ahead of the UFC 297 main event clash.

Betting Odds

This one is about as tight as it gets. Strickland, the champion, can be found at most sites at or near -115. Likewise, Du Plessis is available at -115 on BetUS.

  • Sean Strickland: -115
  • Dricus Du Plessis: -115
Sean Strickland brawl at UFC 296 with Dricus du Plessis
Sean Strickland brawls with Dricus du Plessis at UFC 296

Staff Predictions

Braeden Arbour

Sean Strickland will have to prepare himself for a very dangerous and uncomfortable first couple of rounds. Dricus Du Plessis is an anomaly in the way that he moves inside the octagon and the awkward athleticism behind it. While it may look like there is some labor to his movements, his jab sneaks through most opponents’ guard due to its awkward timing and surprising power.

His ebb and flow rhythm makes it difficult to know when he is going to explode and when in the sequence the explosion has ended. Often he will exchange, drop and look as though he is fading back, just for another shot to come or an off beat level change that catches his opponents off balance and out of proper placement.

Although Duplesis changes stance often, it’s notable that he seems to do a lot of good work from southpaw. The biggest knock on his style has been a lack of cardio at times. He has come out and claimed that this was a medical issue with his nose, which has since been fixed so expect some improvements in his conditioning.

However, that being said, he is yet to show he can go five hard rounds, Sean Strickland is one of the most efficient fighters in the UFC, and there are many instances where Du Plessis clearly makes more energy-costing decisions for the sake of dominance.

For example, opposite Darren Till, Du Plessis opted to control the back by riding Till with a body triangle without any contact to the ground, while posturing to land strikes. While this forces his opponents to carry his weight and offers him the top control and angle to land shots, it’s also the most taxing option on his own legs.

By contrast, Sean Strickland’s style is one where he maintains his relaxed pace, posture, and pressure in order to stay consistent, even if that means he’s not landing at full throttle. Strickland stands tall, with a philly-shell-like striking defense developed to deflect counter punches as he walks forward.

If his opponents find a way to stand their ground, Strickland does a good job of using his long jab and teep to force them back and stuck in his rhythm. He tends to chase his opponents by design rather than cut off the cage, as it allows him to keep the pace and makes them work moving back rather than laterally.

A very big tell early on is who can take the initiative and be the forward-moving fighter. Du Plessis is going to want to be the aggressor and overwhelm Strickland when both men are fresh, potentially securing a takedown and damaging Sean to a detriment as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, If Strickland starts gaining ground from the get-go, it’s difficult to make up that ground. Peppering Du Plessis is going to force him to react and try to counter, which is taxing and we have seen the awkward movement of Du Plessis get him in trouble when he is not the one leading.

However, I believe that getting ahead early and finishing Strickland is Du Plessis’ best and potentially only route to victory. For Strickland, he could get ahead early and wear on Du Plessis, or simply allow a competitive early period to wear on Du Plessis and pick up the pace later to take advantage of a fading fighter.

This is why I lean towards Sean Strickland in this matchup.

Pick: Strickland to win

Dana White standing between Sean Strickland and Dricus du Plessis
Dana White standing between Sean Strickland and Dricus du Plessis (Zuffa LLC)

Michael Pounders

Sean “Tarzan” Strickland, 32, is the middleweight champion of the UFC. Yes, in a division with Adesanya, a future HoF, Whittaker, a possible future HoF, and Chimaev, the ultimate boogeyman, it is “Tarzan” who holds the belt. And, make no mistake about it, he earned his belt in clarifying fashion, completely dismantling Adesanya with a basic jab-cross and intelligent defense.

For his entire career, going back to the COVID Apex days where Strickland’s trash talk entertained the masses, “Tarzan” has fought the same exact way. He stands uniquely tall and stiff, walks forward slowly but intentionally, keeps a tight guard with his hands glued to his cheek bones, and throws basic boxing combinations over and over.

He rarely kicks, rarely wrestles, and rarely throws any punch other than something you learn in your first week at a boxing gym. Yet, he does all of this so well that he won the belt.

Giving credit where credit is due, while Strickland’s fighting style is basic, it is executed perfectly. He rarely throws the wrong strike at the wrong time, is always balanced, is always defensive sound, and never gives his opponents an opportunity to push him back or breathe. His championship shows that perfection, even at a basic level, is still capable of greatness.

The polar opposite of Strickland’s basic but pristine boxing is Dricus “Still Knocks” Du Plessis. Much like his opponent, the 30-year-old South African fighter has received consistent criticism for his fighting style. He is explosive, powerful, aggressive, and athletic; but, as many, including Daniel Cormier, has pointed out, DDP is sloppy, technically flawed, and makes several mistakes in the cage.

Also like Strickland, though, you can’t argue with DDP’s results. He is on an 8-fight win streak which includes a perfect 6-0 record in the UFC with 5 finishes. It’s possible that his herky-jerky style is so unpredictable that it puts his opponents in uncomfortable positions, it’s possible that his athleticism and power are just so special that they make up for his technical flaws, and it’s possible that DDP is more skilled and has a higher fight IQ than most give him credit for. Regardless of the “why,” the fact remains, he is a dangerous fighter who has passed every test in the UFC.

Typically, DDP fights in a way that takes away his opponent’s primary strength or exposes their primary weakness. Against a glass jaw, Du Plessis is a wild puncher who relies on his chin and power to win a brawl against a fighter ill-prepared to be in one. Against a technical boxer, DDP keeps a high and intelligent guard, lowers his volume, and wrestles more. And, against a wrestler, he uses his natural strength and athleticism to be in perpetual motion and make the takedown challenging to time.

In each fight, we’ve seen a more evolved Du Plessis, but he has consistently shown his power, aggression, and toughness, even if it comes at the expense of fundamentals.

This fight was announced weeks ago; I have been thinking about how to bet it since then and I still don’t have a firm stance. So, let’s talk it out. Strickland fought a similar type of fighter to Du Plessis when he faced, and finished, Magomedov. Both Du Plessis and Magomedov are pressure strikers with big power and questionable gas tanks.

While Strickland’s boxing is basic and predictable, he maximizes his effectiveness with excellent fight IQ. Strickland showed he can weaponize patience in the cage, allow an overeager fighter to gas himself out, and then capitalize once vulnerable. He could follow a similar game plan successfully against Du Plessis.

Meanwhile, Du Plessis has shown an evolution each time he’s entered the cage. Starting in the Tavares fight, we saw Du Plessis attempt and land far more strikes than he ever had before, even though he looked exhausted while doing it.

In the Till fight, we saw DDP wrestle far more often and successfully than ever before. In the Brunson fight, we saw DDP meld his volume, power, and wrestling together unlike ever before. And, finally, in the Whittaker fight, we saw Du Plessis be far more defensively aware than ever before.

In each fight, DDP seems to not only grow but come in with the best possible game plan for his opponents. Despite Strickland and DDP getting a lot of criticism for their style (basic and sloppy respectively), their fight IQ and game planning is often overlooked. So, if we assume each fighter will come in with a game plan uniquely suited to this fight, it sheds more light on a possible bet.

Strickland struggles when he surrenders the back foot because he doesn’t have much of a counter-striking game. Meanwhile, DDP is at his best when he builds up momentum but has to be careful about gassing out early. Further, Strickland has excellent takedown defense but isn’t a skilled or particularly strong grappler.

Conversely, DDP is a sneaky good grappler with obvious strength. So, at least early, I expect Strickland’s goals will be to establish his jab, control the center of the octagon, and ramp up his volume early and often. For Du Plessis, I expect him to fight more methodically so he can build up his momentum over a possible five rounds rather than three.

I expect his goal will be to clinch early to negate Strickland’s jab and range, make Strickland carry DDP’s weight against the cage to try and level the cardio advantage, and look to swing big when the clinch breaks.

If each man follows the game plan I’m anticipating, I think this fight will start slow and ramp up in the later rounds. So, my favorite bet is for the fight to start round 3.

As far as a straight pick goes, I think we’ve seen the best Strickland we’ll see, but I think Du Plessis may still continue to grow. Therefore, I ever so slightly side with DDP in this one, likely with a late-round TKO.

Pick: Round 3 to start -150

Joe Pounders

Sean Strickland had one of the greatest championship upset performances of all time, impressively defeating Israel Adesanya. What made that performance as jaw-dropping as it was boiled down to Strickland outfighting Adesanya for nearly every round of the fight, winning the middleweight championship not by a lucky shot, but rather, winning by having a sound game plan and perfectly executing it.

The game plan of Strickland is simple in thought but impressive to repeatedly implement: in-your-face pressure, throw pepper-like strikes, and have an impeccable defense. This style, particularly his defense, proved to be problematic for the range-preferred striking of Adesanya.

In this fight, Strickland’s opponent, Dricus Du Plessis, on paper, is far more comfortable fighting in a phone booth, so, it will be interesting to see if he throws more wrinkles in his game or if he continues to rely on the style that got him to the belt.

Du Plessis is very similar to Sean Strickland in one key area, he is severely underrated. Climbing through the ranks of the middleweight division, many fighters and analysts alike, Daniel Cormier being one, thought the brute-like style of Du Plessis would inevitably fail him, given the skills look awkward and at times stiff.

In his last fight, facing the well-respected former middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, many projected that fight to be a class lesson, where the technical skills of Whittaker would easily pass the threat of Du Plessis and his unorthodox style.

The reality of the fight was completely flipped from expectation, as the awkward striking of Du Plessis found the mark, landing his incredible power and ultimately found a finish. Moreover, Du Plessis, the perceived less skilled fighter of the two, landed an impressive takedown in the fight, and in doing so, showed he can find success in multifaceted fight placements against elite challengers.

The ability to find success in all areas of MMA for Du Plessis originates from his arguable best attribute, explosive power. The power he has extends beyond strikes alone, as he has explosive power in grappling as well, given his impressive size and insane strength for a middleweight. So, while many may favor Strickland’s simple, but impressive technique in this fight, the explosive athlete of Du Plessis should not be continually ignored, as he just passed the test against a highly technical, well-rounded former champion with relative ease.

This fight has violence written all over it. From each fighter loving in-your-face fights to punches thrown between the two just a few months ago at a UFC event, each fighter will go out there Saturday to inflict violence on the other.

In the style of violent fights, Du Plessis is a tough guy to bet against, as he is extremely strong, powerful, and can lean on grappling if rocked. However, the comfort Strickland has with in-the-pocket fights, his extremely strong takedown defense, and his experience fighting a powerful southpaw brawler in Cannonier for 25 minutes makes him a tough bet against as well.

So, while each has great positives afforded to them, the critical difference I will lean on is the 5-round experience of Strickland in addition to him having an elite coach, Eric Nickson, to implement a game plan of success for him here. I anticipate that success to be show caution early when Du Plessis is most dangerous, and then, separation in output as the fight ensues, leading to a Strickland by Decision victory.

Pick: Strickland by Dec (+375)

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