Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight veterans Robert Whittaker and Dricus du Plessis will square off this weekend (Sat., July 8, 2023) at UFC 290 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Whittaker is an athlete who eats setbacks and adversity for breakfast. A knockout loss to Israel Adesanya may have cost him the belt, but it didn’t stop Whittaker from climbing the ranks a second time and giving “Stylebender” a darn good fight in the rematch. It hasn’t been that long since their second fight, but already, Whittaker is likely a win away from a third opportunity. Meanwhile, du Plessis has climbed through the ranks quickly, winning five straight fights to start his UFC career and break into the title mix. The former KSW champion is a vicious finisher, and he’s undoubtedly just one more win away from a crack at Adesanya.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Yoel Romero (UFC 225, UFC 213), Marvin Vettori (UFC Paris), Darren Till (UFC on ESPN 14), Jared Cannonier (UFC 254), Kelvin Gastelum (UFC Vegas 24), Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FOX 24), Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 101)
Key Losses: Israel Adesanya (UFC 271, UFC 243), Stephen Thompson (UFC 170), Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Whittaker is an excellent kickboxer, a combination of sharp boxing and Karate distance fluidity. Takedowns have become a larger and larger part of his game over the years, which has added an additional and helpful layer of offense to his game.
In this bout, distance management is key for Whittaker, as well as his ability to pick and choose when to engage. Du Plessis is a fighter who provides ample opportunities for his opponent, but that doesn’t mean he’s easy to beat. He’s relentless, and he excels at forcing his foes into an exhausted state of chaos in which “Stillknocks” thrives.
Whittaker can handle himself in a crazy brawl — see his pair of showdowns against Yoel Romero — but that’s not the best path to victory for the Aussie. Instead, he should be moving his feet and sticking du Plessis with distance strikes. At times, he has to circle off rather than attack, simply because trying to do too much is how du Plessis opponents often get cracked.
Whittaker has to remain sharp for 15 minutes and never forget the threat in front of him — that’s how to dissect the South African knockout artist.
Dricus du Plessis
Key Wins: Derek Brunson (UFC 285), Darren Till (UFC 282), Roberto Soldic (KSW 43), Brad Tavares (UFC 276), Trevin Giles (UFC 264), Markus Perez (UFC Fight Island 5)
Key Losses: Roberto Soldic (KSW 45)
Keys to Victory: Few elite fighters baffle fight fans like du Plessis. He has an admittedly odd style, but it works tremendously. Du Plessis thrives in ugly fights and he is incredible at forcing them to happen. When the chips are down, du Plessis can still brutalize his opponents, and he excels at surviving rough spots to continue building momentum.
It’s no secret that Whittaker would beat du Plessis’ ass in a point sparring contest. Fortunately, du Plessis hits extremely hard and knows how to create fight-changing moments.
Pace is the name of the game here. Du Plessis has to close the distance and get into Whittaker’s face, otherwise he’s going to get jabbed and kicked endlessly. Of course, Whittaker has the sharp counter punching game to make this painful, but part of du Plessis’ skill set involves taking those shots and continuing to attack.
In general, du Plessis has to initiate exchanges, block/avoid/absorb Whittaker’s return fire, then keep attacking. He wants to be first and third in pocket, which gives him the best chance at connecting with a punch that takes away some of Whittaker’s technical slickness.
Will UFC award Whittaker a second title shot at Adesanya with a win here? Hopefully. The recent Pereira vs. Adesanya rivalry served as a great reminder that fighters can overcome an opponent even after multiple losses. Whittaker remains the clear-cut second best Middleweight on the planet, and another Top 5 win should be enough for a final chance against “Stylebender.”
As for du Plessis, there’s zero doubt at all that he receives a title fight with a win. His trash talk towards the champion isn’t what I would describe as tasteful, but it’s worked in building bad blood! Plus, he’s riding a very good win streak and could become the first man outside of Adesanya to defeat Whittaker at 185 pounds — that accomplishment alone would be title shot worthy.
At UFC 290, Robert Whittaker and Dricus du Plessis will meet in the Octagon. Which Middleweight secures the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 290 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+/ABC at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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