The feud between Sean Strickland and Doricas du Plessis is somewhat exaggerated.
“He’s a good guy,” Strickland said of his opponent, who will defend his middleweight belt in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 297 card in Toronto.
“From my side, there is no bad blood at all,” said the South African challenger. “I have a lot of respect for Sean as a fighter and as a person.”
However, it's not unreasonable to think that Strickland and du Plessis hate each other.
After a heated pre-fight press conference in which both fighters exchanged vicious trash talk, the pair ended up punching the crowd at last month's UFC 296 card in Las Vegas. The incident quickly spread on social media, sparking interest in the next matchup.
However, things are not always as they seem.
“Did I look angry during that fight?” Strickland said with a laugh. “In fact, I was surprisingly happy the whole time. I wish I didn't like him more.”
“You wouldn't expect that from a UFC middleweight world champion, but at the end of the day, we're still fighters,” du Plessis said. “We're still totally different races and when that happened, there wasn't even a thought process. It's just, come on, it's fight or flight now, and I always choose to fight. It was exciting. “
Some fans may be disappointed to learn that what at one point looked like one of the most intense grudge matches in recent memory was actually a run-of-the-mill title fight.
But those fans can take comfort in the fact that du Plessis doesn't seem to need extra motivation to leave it all in the Octagon on Saturday night.
“At the end of the day, you can be the nicest person in the world, or you can be the biggest hole in the world. I'll be there to kill you if I have to,” he said. Said.
The same obviously applies to Strickland.
“I don't think Dorikas will die easily,” he said. “I don't think he's going to die easily. I think it's going to be a 25-minute fight. It's going to be a very good fight.”
Strickland won the UFC middleweight title last September in Australia, defeating legendary champion Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
Du Plessis, who had originally planned to challenge Adesanya before Strickland, was just like everyone else surprised by the outcome of the fight.
“Of course I didn't think he could do it,” he said. “No one thought he could do it, but he went out there and fought the perfect fight.”
“He gave the best performance of his life,” added the South African. “It showed he could step up to the plate. The light didn't get to him, the moment didn't get to him. He went down there and did what he had to do. , and you can't help but respect it. “
Meanwhile, Strickland believes du Plessis may be a tougher test than Adesanya, long considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
“I think [Adesanya’s] Dorikas is a better striker, but Dorikas is a better fighter,” said the 32-year-old. Izzy is definitely better than him, but Dorikas is tougher. ”
“When I hit Izzy, boom, Izzy acts like I don't like this very much. When you hit Drikas, he just steps forward. It's just harder, more It’s a long war.”
Strickland and du Plessis respect each other's skills, but their motivations couldn't be more different.
For the champion, who became one of the most talked about fighters in MMA last year, retaining the title is simply about making as much money as possible.
“I'm only in it for the money, dude,” he said. “I love training and it keeps me sane, but I just do it for the money.
“I'm the most decorated fighter in the middleweight division. All I do is fight, so pay me. If you want me to put down my fork and get back on the treadmill, just pay me. ”
Mr. du Plessis is also motivated by financial gain, but he also works to promote the name of his hometown.
South Africa has produced some talented fighters in recent years, including Don Mudge, Cameron Saiman and Bokan Masnyane, but so far none of them have brought a major world title to their homeland.
Du Plessis, 30, aims to change that and inspire his fellow countrymen in the process.
“All these fighters, including myself, proved that we have great fighters in South Africa,” he said. “Yes, this sport is still young.” [there]South Africa doesn't have a lot of expertise, but it's really incredible that someone can compete for a world title when the sport is so young in this country. ”
“I have a teammate who will soon be fighting for a world title with me in the UFC,” he added. “I can name three or four guys right now who are ready to go to the UFC, but they just need an opportunity.”
The odds for a middleweight title fight between Strickland and du Plessis are very close. As of Thursday, DraftKings lists the challenger as a -140 slight favorite, while the champion is a slight underdog at +105.
Regardless of who comes out on top, the two seem willing to end their rivalry.
“I'll shake his hand,'' Mr. du Plessis said. “Like I said, this isn't personal. This is business.”
“You’re fighting another guy, so respect it,” Strickland said.