The fluid landscape of the UFC’s middleweight division has been the subject of much discussion and debate recently, particularly with respect to South African fighter Dricus du Plessis. Known by his fans as ‘Stillknocks,’ du Plessis has become the focal point of a larger conversation about fighter injuries, opportunities, and the obligations of the UFC after he declined a title fight against Israel Adesanya at UFC 293. This decision drew criticism from none other than UFC President Dana White, a man known for his straightforwardness and occasional abrasiveness when addressing fighters and their career choices.

Du Plessis addressed these criticisms directly during a recent appearance on the FightWave podcast, stating, “I’ve been ready to address every situation of what might happen this weekend, and what the UFC might say, what Dana might say – obviously, him not being very happy that I turned down a fight on seven weeks notice with an injury, which I don’t really understand, but at the end of the day, it’s business for them and you have got to respect that.” 

His comment provides insight into the underlying tension between fighters who view their careers through a long-term lens and a promotion that is often driven by immediate business concerns. This is not the first time such a dynamic has played out in public, but it provides an enlightening case study of the complexities involved.

Du Plessis, who had earned his status as the No.2-ranked middleweight after an impressive second-round TKO against Robert Whittaker at UFC 290, has a history of accepting fights on short notice. He reiterated this during his podcast appearance: “If I can look at my track record, I know for a fact that I’m not somebody that turns down fights if it’s not a good enough reason. I’ve taken fights on short notice multiple times. Every time they phone, I say, ‘Yes, let’s go.’ This time around just wasn’t possible with the injury and short notice.”

Further complicating the middleweight title picture is Sean Strickland’s surprising win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 293. Dana White has intimated that an immediate rematch between ‘The Last Stylebender’ and Strickland is on the cards. The situation is made even more convoluted by Khamzat Chimaev’s upcoming bout with Paulo Costa at UFC 294, which could have significant implications for the title.

Dana White’s philosophy about fighter opportunities was succinctly summarised after the Adesanya-Strickland bout. He stated, “Everything that we’re talking about right now about how crazy this sport is, when opportunities arise, you jump on them and you take them. You should never turn down fights when you get the call, especially if it’s for a world title.”

These remarks by White, however, extend beyond the scope of just du Plessis and touch on the UFC’s overarching strategy and relationship with its fighters. This was illustrated when Strickland, known for his provocative statements, openly questioned Dana White’s satisfaction with him becoming champion. To this, White retorted, “Listen, it is what it is. We obviously put [Strickland] in that position, and he delivered and won the fight. He’s the champ now, so, you know what you’re getting when you get him.”

The UFC president’s relationship with his fighters is a topic of perpetual interest. In a recent interview with BigBoyTV, White revealed that he had openly rooted against fighters like Tito Ortiz, saying, “Oh, absolutely. There’s many guys that I disliked. Tito Ortiz, I mean it was very f*cking out in the open. When he and Chuck fought, you know, as the promoter you’re not supposed to have a rooting interest. I couldn’t f*cking wait to see Chuck whoop his *ss.”

While the complexities of the relationships between fighters and the UFC remain a constant, du Plessis finds himself navigating a particularly intricate situation. He is a rising star who could find his momentum stymied by the changing dynamics of the middleweight division and an injury that has sidelined him temporarily. As the division moves forward with fighters like Strickland and potentially Chimaev reshaping its landscape, ‘Stillknocks’ must consider his next move carefully.

Whether it involves an immediate title shot or another battle to solidify his credentials, one thing is clear: Dricus du Plessis remains a pivotal figure in the evolving narrative of UFC’s middleweight division.