South Africa’s first UFC champion, Dricus “Stillknocks” du Plessis, landed at the OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday morning to a deserved hero’s welcome after making the country proud in Canada.
The 29-year-old Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Pretoria defeated the tough as nails Sean Strickland by split decision to clinch the UFC middleweight title in Toronto last week.
Du Plessis’ impressive victory brought Mzansi together, just like the national rugby team – the Springboks – were able to do just a few months ago through their Rugby World Cup triumph. And just like the Boks after their record extending victory, Du Plessis is the toast of the town as he continues to celebrate his historic achievement.
He arrived to a packed airport with his UFC middleweight title hoisted high and his South African flag wrapped around his shoulders as he walked the same path as Boks skipper Siya Kolisi.
He will not have much time, though, to dwell on celebrations as the title around his waist also means there’s a massive target on his back with every middleweight in the UFC having their eyes on him.
Du Plessis has already made his feelings known regarding his potential next opponent, calling out former champion Israel Adesanya in the octagon after his win at UFC 297.
“There was another guy who tried to take my shine. He lost this shine, now I have your shine,” said Du Plessis.
“Israel Adesanya, get your ass back in the UFC so we can settle the score.”
Adesanya, who is a two-time champion of the division and arguably the greatest middleweight of his generation, isn’t the only fighter that has his sights on Du Plessis’ gold.
Sunday World looks at five options the newly crowned champion could explore for his first title defence.
This is the fight that Du Plessis wants more than any other out there as he believes it would be the biggest given the history of animosity between the two fighters.
The bad blood between the two stems from the comments made by Du Plessis last year about Nigerian-born Adesanya not being a true African champion because he lives in New Zealand.
“The Last Stylebender” did not take kindly to the comments and the pair was meant to fight in Sydney last September, however, Du Plessis declined the bout due to an injury.
This allowed Strickland the opportunity to step up and claim a shock win over Adesanya and catch the attention of Du Plessis in the process, who only wanted UFC gold.
But now that Du Plessis has dethroned Strickland, the South African wants to settle the score with Adesanya and this is a fight that is most likely to happen next.
The Russian is another option for Du Plessis after he claimed that he saw “nothing special” in the South African’s fight with Strickland and was ready to dethrone him at UFC 300 in April.
The undefeated middleweight Chimaev has beaten the likes of Kamaru Usman, Gilbert Burns and Kevin Holland in his past three appearances.
Chimaev, however, has been relatively inactive in recent years and has not faced any top-10 middleweight in the UFC which makes Du Plessis reluctant to give him a title shot.
“Who takes that guy seriously?” said Du Plessis.
Cannonier might not be at the very top of the list, but the former heavyweight is among the top fighters in the middleweight division and could pounce at the opportunity to test Du Plessis should it be available.
He is currently recovering from an MCL injury but is one of the fighters due for another shot at middleweight gold after some impressive wins in his last couple of fights.
The former champion believes he deserves a rematch given how close the fight with Du Plessis was at UFC 297 with some convinced Strickland did enough to retain his title.
Nevertheless, the split decision defeat to the South African meant that Strickland was unable to defend his title at least once and therefore raising questions about whether he deserved another shot.
However, the fact that Strickland has become a big star in the UFC and the manner of his defeat to Du Plessis could force the pair into a rematch.