- Dricus du Plessis won 48-47, 47-48, 48-47 after five extremely close rounds
- He became the first South African UFC champion and had to dig deep for victory
- Viewers were left stood on their feet as the thrilling bout came to a close
UFC fans were left giving a standing ovation as Saturday’s middleweight title bout between Dricus du Plessis and Sean Strickland came to an end,
Du Plessis claimed a split-decision win and the UFC middleweight title at UFC 297 at the Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, becoming South Africa’s first world champion in the promotion.
It was a fight that went all five rounds and the final seconds summed up what a battle it was.
Both men were left swinging as bout entered its last 10 seconds with commentator Jon Anik saying that the forecast was for a war and that’s exactly what they got.
Viewers quickly took to social media with one tweeting: ‘one of the most exciting seconds I’ve seen in a fight so far.’
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Another wrote: ”Always respect when the champions put on a show and go out swinging.’
Despite some stiff jabs from Strickland, who won the belt in September with a huge upset of Israel Adesanya, Du Plessis had the better of the opening exchanges.
The 30-year-old continued to push the American back in the subsequent rounds but while he enjoyed plenty of success with takedowns he could not keep Strickland on the mat for any length of time.
Du Plesis continued to mix up his striking, aiming thudding kicks to the body and landing several left high kicks to keep Strickland guessing.
With a stream of blood running from a cut on his left eye, Strickland opened up late in the final round with a series of huge punches but was unable to find a finish and the fight went to the judges’ scorecards.
Du Plessis earned the split decision victory and sank to his knees in tears before thanking his coaches.
‘I honestly thought with the takedowns, I made sure in every round. I could feel it was a close one, I definitely gave him the first round,’ a triumphant Du Plesis said in a post-fight interview before calling out former champ Adesanya.
In the co-main event, Raquel Pennington came on strong over the final two rounds to secure a unanimous decision win over Mayra Bueno Silva to take the vacant women’s bantamweight crown.