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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Crooke’s Cage: Du Plessis takes over the middleweight division

Rachel Choi
Illustration Rachel Choi

At a press conference on Jan. 18, then-middleweight champion Sean Strickland made a passionate, impromptu handshake deal that can be summarized in three words: “To the death.”

Two days later, after five rounds and a split decision, Strickland’s title reign ended as quickly as his predecessor, Israel Adesanya, in the first title defense. While the decision has garnered some controversy with UFC President Dana White even having his scorecards at two rounds apiece going into round five, it’s clear that South African fighter Dricus Du Plessis wanted the title more at UFC 297. 

This fight came down to who was able to inflict the most damage, and while Strickland lit up Du Plessis for 157 headshots, Du Plessis was able to spread out the damage with 32 body shots and 24 leg kicks, compared to Strickland’s 10 body shots and six leg kicks. With six takedowns throughout the fight, including a round-ending sequence that involved Strickland being slammed to the mat multiple times, Du Plessis not only made a statement out of Strickland but also showed the division will likely be prone to some form of championship hot potato shortly.

With the middleweight title possibly changing hands soon, the middleweight division has several fighters who have a shot at a title reign. The people in line to potentially challenge for the title include welterweight transplant Khamzat Chimaev, Jared Cannonier, Robert Whittaker, and of course, Adesanya.

Adesanya declared that he would take a hiatus until 2027 following his second title loss to Strickland. With the title in Du Plessis’ hands, the chances of this hiatus ending are more likely following Du Plessis’ callout in his octagon interview. 

The co-main event featured seasoned UFC veteran Raquel Pennington and Mayra Bueno Silva for the vacant women’s bantamweight championship, with both fighters looking to begin their first reign as world champions. While Bueno Silva had the higher strike accuracy with 91/118, Pennington nearly tripled Bueno Silva’s count with 265 strikes landed on 342 shots. 91 of those strikes were aimed at the head. 

Pennington put on a masterclass and showed that you can’t count out a veteran, even if their last title fight was almost five years ago. 

UFC 297 reminded me a lot of UFC 283—both of these cards kicked off the year with very interesting matchups, but both cards were marred in different ways.

In Brazil, the fans booed and threw objects at Brandon Moreno after he defeated Deveison Figuereido for the flyweight title. The crowd left after Jamahal Hill dissected Glover Texeira, with a mostly empty arena being the backdrop for a UFC legend’s emotional retirement. 

Toronto had no issue being a great crowd—rowdy but controlled, and complementing the energy the main event brought to the arena. Their local fighters, however, didn’t have a good night at the office. Gillian Robertson and Jasmine Jasudavicius were the lone victories for Canada, with fan favorite Mike Malott being silenced by Neil Magny.

While the UFC had a break following their trip to Toronto, Roman Dolidze and Nassourdine Imavov will headline the first of two back-to-back Fight Night cards at the UFC Apex, with the other featuring Jack Hermansson and upstart contender Joe Pyfer the week after. 

On Feb. 17, the UFC will make its return to Anaheim, California for the first time in two years, with Alexander Volkanovski facing undefeated contender Ilia Topuria for the featherweight championship. Former champs Robert Whittaker and Henry Cejudo will also step back into the cage to face Paulo Costa and Merab Dvalishvili, respectively.

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About the Contributor
Aidan Crooke
Aidan Crooke, Staff Writer, Sports
Aidan Crooke (he/him) is a sophomore sports communications major hailing from Lenoir, North Carolina. Crooke's work focuses on the UFC, NBA, and NFL, mainly in his work with Crooke's Cage. Outside of the Beacon, he can likely be found at a MMA gym or being an active member of Emerson Esports.

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