This rivalry between Dricus du Plessis and Israel Adesanya is on the verge of being resolved. Adesanya successfully defended his middleweight championship at UFC 287 with a sensational knockout victory in the second round against his longtime rival Alex Pereira. After the victory, Adesanya pledged to “drag his carcass across South Africa” if he keep winning fights, laying the groundwork for a future challenge but without naming du Plessis. It should come as no surprise that du Plessis is delighted to provide him with this opportunity.
“For him saying that, does he think I’m scared of him?” du Plessis said on The MMA Hour. “I am not scared of that man? The fact that he put some threats out there, obviously he’s forgotten, because I don’t take kindly to threats. Over here, it doesn’t work like that. If you want to make threats, come and show me. Come and show me how you drag my carcass around. I would love to see you try.”
Some of the animosity between Adesanya and du Plessis derives from statements made by the South African fighter, who calls himself “an African champion,” that he lives and trains in Africa but other African-born champions, such as Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, do not.
Both Adesanya and Usman were offended by this characterization of their nationalities; Adesanya was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in Ghana before moving to New Zealand when he was 10 years old. But du Plessis contends that everything has been overemphasized beyond all perspectives.
“Immediately they went to, ‘Dricus said he’s more African than Kamaru Usman and the African-born champion,’” du Plessis said. “I never said those words. Not even close to. I simply stated the fact that I am the only — if I’m wrong, I will say sorry immediately. Do one of them reside in Africa? I did not even mention this toward them. I did not talk about them, I talked about myself. I was not aiming anything at them, I was aiming something at myself. That I will be the first champion that resides in Africa, that will take his belt home to Africa.
“I never said they weren’t African, or I was more African. Of course they’re African, and I respect them a whole lot. Usman is one of the greatest to ever do it. Adesanya is one of the greatest middleweights to ever walk this Earth. I never took anything away from them, in that aspect. The only thing I said is I’m still residing in Africa, and I will bring my belt back home, to Africa, which is where I reside. If we are sending out postcodes and addresses, mine’s going to be in Africa, and that’s the facts of the matter.
“To bring color into it is, for me, the most ridiculous thing ever,” du Plessis continued. “That is the one thing from this whole thing that really pisses me off, to be honest. That color was brought into it. I’ve never even mentioned color, because it makes absolutely no difference to me, and to every single person I know, it makes absolutely no difference to. Color is not the topic at discussion. If anybody is bringing in color, bringing in the fact that I’m white or they are black, or any form of race anyway, to me, that is absolutely ridiculous. This is a sport. This is fighting. Once you get into a sport, once we get into fighting, sport as a whole brings people together. There’s no place for race and mentioning of color, at all. That really pisses me off. I never said
those words. I only stated that I’m the one residing in Africa, and all of a sudden it became this racial thing. And that is absolutely disgusting, if I’m being honest. I don’t see any need for that in the sport, or in any sport, for that matter.”
Whether you like it or not, that narrative and promotional angle is already out there, and if the two fighters end up fighting one another, the UFC will probably focus a lot of attention on the animosity between them. However, du Plessis is not bothered about it; his sole focus is on capturing the middleweight belt.
“I don’t care about anything else,” du Plessis said. “For me, it’s about getting that belt and bringing it home. Whether he is African — of course he’s African! He was born in Nigeria. But does he reside in Africa? No, he doesn’t. So I was simply stating a fact. Did he ever train in Nigeria? Did he train in Africa? No, he didn’t. Do I train in Africa? Yes, I do. So I’m not saying he’s not African, I am more African; I’m simply saying I want to make history by being the first African-residing champion.
“I think people are making this an issue that is not there. This is, purely, two guys fighting. This is me vs. Israel Adesanya. For me, there is no, ‘I’m more African, you’re more African.’ I reside in Africa. He doesn’t. That is a fact. That is not my opinion. That is a fact. He’s African, his heritage is African, of course. But that does not change the fact that I want to be and will be the first African-residing champion.”
Du Plessis is confident that the time has come for him to seize this opening. While Adesanya stressed that du Plessis needed to “show me something” to deserve a title chance, du Plessis feels the UFC has other plans for him.
“I think so,” du Plessis responded when asked if he’d get the next title shot. “Like I said, as a fighter, I have all the respect in the world for him. He has done amazing things. I think he might be one of, if not the greatest middleweights of all time. Obviously, competing with the great Anderson Silva, that’s a very hard case to make, but he’s an incredible fighter. … But I’m the No. 1-ranked guy that he has not fought. Unless they are going to do a Whittaker 3, which I do not see happening, and they’re definitely not going to do a trilogy match [for Pereira], unless Adesanya decides to go up to light heavyweight again, I don’t see them doing that, so I’m the next guy for the belt. That’s the only thing that makes sense. I will be more than happy to accept that fight. I don’t see any other option.”
Du Plessis is currently making a full recovery after sinus surgery that was performed on his nose in order to fix a problem that caused him to have difficulty breathing. The South African fighter is hoping to make his comeback possibly in July or August, but this will depend on how quickly he recovers and the decision made by the UFC. He’d like a title opportunity, but if it doesn’t happen, he’ll do what Adesanya asked and win again.
“I answer to the UFC,” du Plessis said. “At the end of the day, if I beat them now, or I beat them when I win the belt, it doesn’t matter to me. To me it doesn’t make any difference. If they give me a No. 1 contender fight, that’s up to them, but I honestly believe they’re going to give me a title fight, and I want that title fight. But if they don’t, there’s nothing we can do about it. I’ll go out there, I’ll fight, I’ll win. I don’t say no to fights. I’ll go out there, do what I have to do, win another fight, and prove once again that I belong in that position.”