UFC 297 Results: Dricus Du Plessis dethrones Sean Strickland, Raquel Pennington captures gold

Originally published at UFC 297 Results: Dricus Du Plessis dethrones Sean Strickland, Raquel Pennington captures gold

UFC 297 Results: Dricus Du Plessis dethroned Sean Strickland, Raquel Pennington captures gold

UFC’s middleweight division has a new king.

Dricus Du Plessis ended the short-lived reign of Sean Strickland on Saturday night, going five competitive rounds for an airtight split decision result that earned him the UFC Middleweight Championship.

Du Plessis’ win headlined UFC 297, which was the promotion’s first appearance in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 2018.

It was not an easy fight for Du Plessis, as demonstrated by the two scorecards that saw him only take one more round than what Strickland had earned. The stand-up styles of Strickland and Du Plessis clashed for most of the 25-minute contest, and Du Plessis had to engage in wild firefights on the feet to earn points from judges.

Du Plessis pressured Strickland with his striking for a large portion of the fight, coming forward with wailing hooks that would back up the defending champion. Strickland seemed uncomfortable with Du Plessis’ game plan and looked out of his element in the later rounds. Many of Strickland’s fights in the past see him as the aggressor, marching down his opponent and dictating the pace. It was quite the opposite for Strickland this weekend.

In the fourth round, a right cross from Du Plessis caused some marking up around the left eye of Strickland. While the damage was first visible on Du Plessis’ face earlier in the fight, the cut that opened on Strickland caused him to look like the more hurt fighter by the end of the bout.

Du Plessis’ striking skills were mainly what led him to a win, although he was also able to briefly take Strickland to the canvas — something that has not been seen often in Strickland’s UFC career.

Overall, it was a clash of two awkward styles, with Du Plessis getting the upper hand. Strickland had rounds that could be argued went his way — the first and final frames being strong cases of this — but the trouble that Du Plessis gave him was fair justification for the conclusion that two of the three judges came to.

Strickland was looking to defend his middleweight belt for the first time since earning it off Israel Adesanya through a massive upset loss last year. The title change Saturday continues the middleweight division’s turmoil at the top — something it has experienced since the end of Adesanya’s first title run. The belt has been held by four different fighters in under two years, with no fighter being able to successfully defend it during that run. The question will now be if Du Plessis can break that streak.

Du Plessis earned a title shot through a perfect rise up the middleweight rankings in the UFC. He joined the promotion’s roster in 2020 as a short-notice fill-in for a fight against Markus Perez. After earning a trio of victories, he started to get more serious matchups by late 2022. He beat former champ Darren Till and veteran Derek Brunson, then was given Robert Whittaker. 

Whittaker was seen as a big challenge, causing Du Plessis to be an underdog in the fight. But Du Plessis shocked the world and secured a title shot at UFC 290, stopping Whittaker in the second round with strikes. The 30-year-old is now a UFC champion just seven bouts into his promotional run and is the first-ever titleholder in the promotion’s history to represent South Africa.

Raquel Pennington earns bantamweight belt in quiet five-round fight

Veteran Raquel Pennington will be the first person to lead the bantamweight division after the conclusion of the Amanda Nunes era. Pennington went five rounds against Mayra Bueno Silva to earn the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship, a belt that was dropped by Nunes last year after she retired from MMA.

Pennington had a slow-paced victory against Bueno Silva, using submission attempts and damage on the ground to earn rounds. A big factor that benefitted Pennington was the fact that Bueno Silva started to become visibly fatigued in the third round.

Pennington’s most dominant round was the last when she attempted an arm triangle choke and then landed a series of strikes while in top position. Bueno Silva was able to cause trouble by attempting submissions earlier in the fight, although Pennington overall had the better performance. The Toronto crowd, which had been subjected to five consecutive decisions earlier on the card, seemed disinterested in the fight. A fair amount of boos could be heard from the crowd as the final round wrapped up.

Saturday was the second time that Pennington challenged for a UFC belt. She previously fought Nunes back at UFC 224 in 2018, getting stopped in the fifth round of that fight. She earned another crack at the belt after a multi-year climb up the 135-pound division, scoring five consecutive wins since 2020.

Bueno Silva avoided a loss in her previous four fights before Saturday, including two finish wins. She beat Holly Holm in a 2023 main event, although that result was overturned to a no-contest months later due to a drug test that found ritalinic acid, a metabolite found in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) medication Ritalin.

After the fight, Pennington mentioned that she expects to face former champion Julianna Pena next. Pena briefly held the belt from 2021 to 2022, before losing her rematch to Nunes.

Neil Magny scores late upset finish to stop Mike Malott’s rise

An incredibly unsuccessful night for Canadians in MMA was capped off by a late upset loss for welterweight prospect Mike Malott. After a little more than two rounds that showed a well-rounded game involving striking and takedowns, Malott was suddenly put on his back and finished with punches by experienced talent Neil Magny.

Magny scored a takedown halfway through the third round, a position he didn’t find much time in earlier in the fight. He moved into full mount, where Malott had been for portions of the fight before. From this position, he unloaded with ground and pound punches, which Malott didn’t have much of a response to. Magny strung together a long series of shots without any real resistance from Malott, causing the referee to stop the fight.

Malott was placed high on Saturday’s card, presumably due to the fact that he seems to be one of the stronger Canadian prospects on the UFC roster. He had an impressive three-fight winning streak in the promotion before this weekend, with all three victories coming via finish in the first or second rounds.

Magny was a big step up in competition for Malott, but it seemed like a challenge that he was ready for. Oddsmakers placed him as a heavy favorite and prediction sites like Tapology saw a large majority of their users pick him as the winner. Malott fought like the favorite he was perceived as heading into the fight for the first two rounds, with the tide turning dramatically in the closing minutes.

Malott’s performance meant that Canadians won in just two of their nine appearances on the card this weekend.

Chris Curtis holds onto ranked middleweight spot with split-decision victory

Chris Curtis held onto his ranked spot at middleweight with a split-decision win over Marc-Andre Barriault. In a fight that started slow but picked up its pace in the latter half, Curtis worked his usual counter-striking style against Barriault.

The win on Saturday gives some stability to Curtis’ career after a frustrating 2023. At UFC 287, he suffered a loss via unanimous decision to Kelvin Gastelum. He returned two months later with the goal of getting back into the win column with a fight against ranked middleweight Nassourdine Imavov. Unfortunately, a clash of heads in the second round caused their bout to end via no contest. A loss on Saturday could have potentially bounced Curtis out of the 185-pound division’s top 15, as he currently sits in 14th place.

The fight was another example of judges delivering wildly different scorecards after watching a fight. Two of the three judges’ cageside saw all three rounds go to Curtis, while the third decided that Barriault took two of the three rounds.

Differing scorecards were a slight theme of the night, as four different split decisions were delivered throughout the evening.

Movsar Evloev makes title shot case after win over high-ranked Arnold Allen

Movsar Evloev continued his undefeated climb toward a featherweight title shot in the opening slot of the main card, taking a hard-fought decision victory over Arnold Allen. Evloev had a wrestling-focused game plan, aggressively looking to get Allen to the mat in all three rounds.

Evloev was able to get Allen to the mat often, although Allen had the ability to fight out of positions and return to his feet. There were hardly any prolonged periods on the canvas of the octagon.

Evloev’s best moment on the feet came late in the second round, as a series of punches hurt Allen and opened a cut just under his left eye.

After his win, Evloev called for a title shot against the winner of the upcoming fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria. It will be interesting to see whether Evloev will be next in line for a title shot, or if he will need another victory before being considered for a title fight.

Evloev came into this weekend ranked ninth in the 145-pound division, but he is expected to move up numerous spots after beating fourth-ranked Allen. Top names at 145 pounds include Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez, and Brian Ortega, all fighters who have either held a belt or recently had a title shot.

While Evloev does have a strong record, it feels like his close win over Allen isn’t enough yet to make the case that he’s next in line. This being said, if he can earn a win over one of the former title challengers that sit at the top of the rankings – and do so in a more dominant fashion — he would have a strong case for getting a title shot next.

Canadians struggle on UFC 297 prelims

UFC 297 was certainly a representation of how strong Canada continues to be as an MMA market. But, it arguably also painted a sobering representation of how well the country’s current-day UFC talents perform. Out of the seven Canadian names on the UFC 297 prelims, just two emerged victorious: strawweight Gillian Robertson and flyweight Jasmine Jasudavicius. Here’s a rundown of all of the prelim bouts:

Garrett Armfield picked up his second UFC win in the feature prelim, getting the unanimous decision victory after a competitive three-round battle against Winnipeg’s Brad Katona. The fight was Armfield’s second consecutive win in the UFC, with the prior being a finish against Toshiomi Kazama. The loss for Katona is a tough stop to his momentum in recent years: After leaving the UFC roster in 2019, he had a strong four-fight run in notable regional promotion Brave CF. He then won Season 31 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” including a stellar grand final victory over Cody Gibson. After all of that success, he’s back to the drawing board after a tough loss this weekend.

A featherweight meeting between Charles Jourdain and Sean Woodson produced one of the more bizarre post-fight moments in recent memory. Ring announcer Bruce Buffer read out the split decision result for the close featherweight fight, in the end declaring “Sean Woodson” as the winner. However, likely due to “Sean” being pronounced in a way that could be misheard as “Charles,” the crowd, the corners, and the fighters all thought it was Jourdain who earned the victory. Just a few moments later, it became clear that Woodson was the actual winner. Woodson prevailed in a slow-output stand-up bout, landing a higher volume of strikes throughout most of the fight. Woodson has now won four of his last five, with the other result being a split decision draw from 2022.

Ramon Taveras won his UFC debut in a rematch against Serhiy Sidey, earning a split decision nod after a “Fight of the Night” candidate. The fight saw the bantamweights engage in an all-out stand-up battle that saw a major shift in momentum one-third into it. Taveras had a strong opening round, doing damage to a slow-starting Sidey. Despite being bloodied and cut up after the first round, Sidey turned things around and controlled the second frame with an accurate and stalking striking style. The fight ended with a close third round, where Sidey out-landed Taveras as the output from both fighters dropped off. All three judges saw the fight in different ways: One judge saw Taveras win just the first round. Another saw him win the first and the second. A third judge considered the first and third for him. But most importantly, two of the three judges came to a 29-28 conclusion in favor of Taveras.

Some disputed giving the fight to Taveras, including the Toronto crowd who were pulling for their Canadian fighter, Sidey. An overwhelming number of reporters covering the event scored it in favor of Sidey, as MMA scorecard database MMADecisions.com tracked 21 different media members that saw him win the fight two-rounds-to-one.

Sidey and Taveras fought on the 2023 season of “Dana White’s Contender Series.” Sidey won in their initial appearance with a first-round finish, although the result was disputed by many as an early stoppage by the referee.

Gillian Robertson added a one-sided win to her now 16-fight UFC career, returning to Canada for the second time and ending a dominant ground performance against Polyana Viana with strikes in the second round. Robertson’s previous appearance in her home country was 10 fights ago, at UFC 240 in 2019.

Sam Patterson picked up his first UFC victory on the prelims, getting on the back of Quebec’s Yohan Lainesse for a first-round rear naked choke submission. Patterson didn’t win in his UFC debut last year, suffering a rough knockout finish against Yanal Ashmouz at UFC 286.

Jasmine Jasudavicius was the first Canadian of the night to pick up a win, putting an absolute beating on Priscila Cachoeira for three rounds before submitting her in their round with an anaconda choke. Jasudavicius overwhelmingly out-landed Cachoeira on the ground, and it was quite surprising that the fight didn’t get stopped earlier than it did. The bout was originally scheduled to take place at flyweight but was moved up to bantamweight after Cachoeira had trouble with the 125-pound limit.

Flyweight Jimmy Flick had an impressive comeback victory in the opening bout of the night, catching Malcolm Gordon in the second round with an arm triangle choke. Flick struggled earlier in the fight, struggling against Gordon’s sharp striking and failing to do enough on the ground to win rounds over the damage output from his opponent. The fight put Flick back into the win column for the first time since his 2020 UFC debut.

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