The 30-year-old South African captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown with a hard-fought split decision over Strickland in the UFC 297 headliner on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. All three cageside judges scored it 48-47: Sal D’Amato for Strickland, Derek Cleary and Eric Colon for Du Plessis.
It was close for the duration. Strickland (28-6, 15-6 UFC) operated behind his potent jab and took away the challenger’s low kicks with exquisite defense. Du Plessis (21-2, 7-0 UFC) struck for takedowns in the first second and fourth rounds, opened multiple cuts with clubbing blows upstairs and made it a point to advance on his upright adversary whenever possible. He did his best work in Round 4, where he executed multiple takedowns and drew blood with a lunging straight right hand. Strickland kept his foot on the accelerator across the last five minutes, paired his jab with crosses, managed to stay upright and mixed in a few kicks to the body. Ultimately, his final push failed to close the gap on the scorecards.
Du Plessis now finds himself on a nine-fight winning streak.
Grueling clinches and a superior gas tank carried Altitude MMA’s Raquel Pennington to a unanimous decision over Mayra Bueno Silva, as she laid claim to the vacant UFC women’s bantamweight title in the five-round co-main event. Pennington (16-8, 13-5 UFC), who succeeds the retired Amanda Nunes as undisputed champion at 135 pounds, swept the scorecards with 49-46, 49-46 and 49-45 marks from the cageside judges.
Bueno Silva (10-3-1, 5-3-1 UFC) faded badly after a successful first round. Pennington connected with the cleaner shots in their standup exchanges—a Superman punch in Round 4 was perhaps the best strike of the fight—but made real headway in close quarters. There, she drained Bueno Silva’s reserves with relentlessness, guile and high-percentage offense. The American Top Team-trained Brazilian battled visible exhaustion and understandable frustration in the championship rounds but still managed to throw a few submissions Pennington’s way, from a rear-naked choke to an armbar to a triangle choke. None of it was enough to alter the direction the bout was headed. Bueno Silva accepted bottom position after a failed kneebar attempt in the fifth round and did little else other than survive. Pennington moved on a mounted arm-triangle choke at one point, then bailed in favor of ground-and-pound. The punches, elbows and forearm strikes that fell next sealed Bueno Silva’s fate.
Pennington, 35, has rattled off six straight victories.
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 semifinalist Neil Magny staged a stunning comeback and put away the heavily favored Mike Malott with punches in the third round of their welterweight showcase. Magny (28-12, 21-11 UFC) drew the curtain 4:45 into Round 3, as he finished a fight with strikes for the first time in more than five years.
Malott (10-2-1, 3-1 UFC) was in charge for two-plus rounds. The Canadian tore into Magny with leg kicks, fought at a measured pace and appeared to turn the corner with high-level grappling. Malott delivered a pair of takedowns in the second round and eventually executed a beautiful standing guard pass from side control to full mount. Drawing upon 40 professional bouts worth of experience, Magny stayed the course. Malott grounded him twice more in Round 3, only to see the Elevation Fight Team product spring a reversal, withstand an attempted guillotine choke and secure a takedown of his own. Magny then proceeded to expose his counterpart’s lack of stamina, as he shifted from full mount to the back and let fly with punches until the job was done.
The setback closed the book on Malott’s six-fight winning streak.
Xtreme Couture’s Chris Curtis called upon effective counters and damaging dirty boxing in a contentious split decision over former two-division TKO Major League MMA champion Marc-Andre Barriault in a three-round middleweight feature. Judges Eric Colon and Declan Woods struck 30-27 scorecards for Curtis, while Derek Cleary scored it 29-28 for Barriault.
Neither man seized the initiative through the first 10 minutes, the natives growing restless with the perceived lack of meaningful activity. Curtis (31-10, 5-2 UFC) opened multiple cuts on the Canadian—one across the bridge of the nose, another above the right eyebrow—and seemed to find another gear when it mattered most. He engaged Barriault (16-7, 5-6 UFC) at close range in a number of third-round exchanges, attacking the body and head with equal aplomb.
The victory was Curtis’ first since Dec. 10, 2022.
Former M-1 Global champion Movsar Evloev kept his perfect professional record intact and moved ever closer to title contention at 145 pounds with a unanimous decision over Arnold Allen in their three-round featherweight appetizer. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Evloev (18-0, 8-0 UFC), who has gone the distance in all eight of his UFC appearances.
Allen (19-3, 10-2 UFC) oftentimes looked like a man who was caught in the no man’s land between offense and defense. Evloev used the ever-present threat of the takedown to keep the Tristar Gym export at bay for much of the match. He staggered Allen with a stiff jab in the second round and followed it with a sweeping right hook that opened a serious horizontal gash under his left eye. Those efforts afforded him some wiggle room in Round 3. There, Allen cut off the American Top Team rep with a front headlock and then uncorked three illegal knees to the side of the head, one of which drew a steady stream of blood. After a brief pause to the action and a warning from referee Marc Goddard, he caught an oncoming Evloev in a ninja choke in a bid to turn the tide. The unshakable Russian scrambled free, extricated himself from danger and rode out the remaining time.
The 29-year-old Allen has suffered consecutive defeats for the first time in his 22-fight career.