Du Plessis discusses May return, Adesanya ‘facts’

PRETORIA, South Africa — UFC middleweight champion Dricus du Plessis told ESPN he is expecting to be ready to fight by mid-2024, and reiterated his desire to face Nigeria-born New Zealander Israel Adesanya in South Africa.

‘Stillknocks’ Du Plessis injured both legs in his January UFC 297 fight against Sean Strickland, which he won by split decision to claim the title, a first UFC Championship for a South African fighter.

“I’ll be ready for June [or] July — I guess even [in] May, I’ll be fit and ready to go. I just want to be able to have a proper camp… I would like to fight three times a year. That would be ideal, so June [or] July would be ideal,” Du Plessis told ESPN at his CIT gym in Pretoria.

Although he has previously said on fellow UFC fighter Cameron Saaiman‘s “MSP Show” that Adesanya cannot dictate his timeline to return to the Octagon, and thus put his title on the line, he still views the Lagos-born fighter as his dream opponent.

“Absolutely,” du Plessis told ESPN when asked if a title fight with Adesanya in Cape Town was his dream faceoff.

“Fighting Izzy on home soil would be the ideal. That would be ticking a lot of boxes. He’s one of the best to ever do it in the middleweight division.

“Of course, bringing the UFC to Africa would be awesome. That would be a victory in itself for MMA and for Africa. Of course, South Africa being my home country, it would be amazing to fight him on home soil.”

Although he praised Adesanya’s skill in the Octagon, du Plessis was less complimentary of his personality outside of it. The two have been feuding since Du Plessis claimed that he and Saaiman were trying to become the UFC’s true African champions, alluding to Adesanya growing up in New Zealand.

“Did those belts ever go to Africa? As far as I know, they came to America and New Zealand. I’m going to take a belt to Africa,” he said at a media day of titles won by Francis Ngannou, Kamaru Usman and Adesanya.

“I’m the African fighter in the UFC. Myself and Cameron; we breathe African air. We wake up in Africa every day. We train in Africa, we’re African born, we’re African raised. We still reside in Africa, we train out of Africa. That’s an African champion, and that’s who I’ll be.”

Adesanya, who had presented his belt to Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State in 2019, responded to Du Plessis by threatening to “drag his carcass around South Africa”.

Du Plessis stands by his words a year later, telling ESPN: “That wasn’t a jab. That was facts. I stated facts.”

When asked if he had hoped to catch Adesanya’s attention with the comments, he said: “Not at all. I just mentioned that I wanted to make history and I did.

“I wanted to make history as the first African-born, trained and residing champion and I did. That was exactly what I wanted to accomplish — saying that I wanted to make history, and I made history.”

On his differences with Adesanya, he added: “I would have a beer with anyone just for the sake of it, but I guess we have different views on what’s right and what’s wrong.

“It’s pretty evident we are not the same people. We have different values in terms of what’s wrong and what’s right and the message we want to get across on how we want people to view the sport and how we want people to view other people. There’s a big difference in what I want people to take away and what he wants people to take away.”

When asked what specifically he wanted people to take from watching him, Du Plessis said: “That this is an amazing sport and that sport in general is amazing — whether it’s fighting, cricket, rugby, soccer — it doesn’t really matter. It’s incredible.

“Treat people with respect; people treat you with respect. If you don’t, then I don’t treat you with respect and that’s also fine, but you just have to take ownership of your actions at the end of the day.

“Your work ethic — that’s what I want people to take away. Your work ethic will always be exposed at the end of the day.”

On where he draws the line between entertainment through unfiltered speech and behaviour unbecoming of a UFC champion — a line that he has previously accused Adesanya of crossing in their UFC 290 faceoff — du Plessis said: “That depends from one person to another.

“The way I see what’s good for the sport is: I’m no angel — I’ll tell you that much — but when it comes to me being on TV, you won’t see me swear in interviews.

“I do swear — make no mistake — but purely because if I’m in somebody’s house and they ask me not to swear in their house, then I don’t do that because it’s disrespectful. That’s their place — that’s their home. If you’re in my house and I swear and you don’t like it, you can leave.

“Me being on the international stage — the whole of South Africa and the whole world watching — I’m in everybody’s house and that’s purely how I feel about it, so if their rules about swearing are there’s no swearing in their house, I have to take that into consideration.

“There’s nobody that says: ‘You have to swear in my house,’ but there are people that don’t like you swearing in their house. This is just an example.

“I feel a responsibility. I have the respect for these households to always conduct myself on camera, because there are children watching, there are teenagers watching and you are setting an example at the end of the day.

“I’m human, so I’m going to make mistakes of course, but I always keep that in mind — that I am an example. People do look up to me.”

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