Dricus du Plessis’ seven-year journey as a professional fighter will reach its high point this weekend when the South African makes his bow in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the dream of every young MMA athlete.
Du Plessis is part of the main Fight Night card taking place at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, with SuperSport’s live broadcast starting 1am on SuperSport Action (DStv ch 210).
He fights Markus Perez of Brazil, who has been with UFC for three years, having won a pair of outings and lost three others. Their match-up is the third on the main card.
It’s been a frantic few weeks for the Pretoria-based athlete, who received word from the UFC that he had received a multi-fight contract and then had to arrange the paperwork doubly fast to ensure he could get to Fight island’s bio-bubble in time.
“It’s been a long road,” he said of his career that saw him crowned the Extreme Fighting Championship’s youngest champion, at 20, and his subsequent fights in the UK and Poland where he demonstrated his skill as a submission specialist.
While several South Africans have tried and failed in UFC, Du Plessis says he will draw from his experience of having fought before big crowds overseas, a luxury his predecessors never had.
“I fought at a sold-out Wembley Stadium in London . . . I can deal with pressure. I won my first title at 20, against ‘Soldierboy’ (Garreth McLellan). Since my fifth fight, I’ve only fought on main cards. I was made for this,” said the 26-year-old.
With a background across a range of combat sport (boxing, wrestling and judo), he’s an accomplished all-rounder who nonetheless enjoys the ground game. He doesn’t do overtime either: every one of his 16 fights has finished early.
He will be looking for more than just the win this weekend. Speaking from Fight island, he told SuperSport that he’s well aware of UFC’s preference for entertaining athletes over pure athletes.
“A lot of guys just want to win, but in UFC’s world you must entertain, you must do it all. I realised early in my career that I must excite and that’s what I’ve delivered.”
Having sized up Perez in the hotel, Du Plessis sees nothing special. “Having fought [and lost] in UFC, it’s do-or-die for him. He’ll come out hard. But I’ve worked for this my whole life. This is where I belong.”
The rest of the main card: Marlon Moraes vs Cory Sandhagen; Edson Barboza vs Makwan Amirkhani; Ben Rothwell vs Marcin Tybura; Tom Aspinall vs Alan Baudot; Youssef Zalal vs Ilia Topuria.