Toronto main event fighters Strickland, du Plessis fight in crowd at UFC 296 in Vegas
LAS VEGAS — UFC middleweight champion Sean (Tarzan) Strickland and challenger Dricus (Stillknocks) du Plessis got a head start on their main-event showdown in Toronto next month when they exchanged blows Saturday night in the crowd at UFC 296.
The trouble started at T-Mobile Arena when Strickland was shown cageside on the broadcast with du Plessis, sitting two rows behind, reacting with boos and a thumbs down. Strickland then cocked a finger like a gun and mimed shooting the South African, who dodged the imaginary bullet.
Du Plessis kept talking and Strickland, after politely asking the son of UFC fighter Gilbert Burns to vacate the seat between them, jumped over the gap and starting punching du Plessis. Security and others intervened
"That's kind of crazy," commentator Joe Rogan said as the brouhaha was replayed.
Strickland, a loose cannon outside the cage, is set to make his first title defence against du Plessis on Jan. 20 in Toronto at UFC 297.
"Now I understand why you have a 33 per cent finish rate, you hit like a girl," du Plessis tweeted later. "Also 20 January the security won’t be there to save your life when I’m on top."
The two fighters exchanged barbs, often very personal, at a news conference Friday.
"I will take your soul," said Strickland, throwing in some profanities for good measure.
UFC president Dana White took blame for the post-UFC 296 altercation, saying he approved the seating chart.
"I don't know what humans you can sit Strickland next to, but definitely not du Plessis," White told the post-fight news conference. "I don't even know how I missed that."
White said he told Strickland to go to the back of the area after the altercation. Instead, the fighter left the arena.
"We're in the fight business," White added with a sigh. "And no we don't like this (extracurricular) stuff and we do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen."
The January card will be the UFC's first in Toronto since Dec. 8, 2018, when then-featherweight champion Max (Blessed) Holloway won a bloody, lopsided TKO over No. 1 challenger Brian (T-City) Ortega during UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena.
"I haven't been there in years, that for sure," White said Saturday night. "And Toronto's always a fun spot. Always great fans up there, the energy and the buzz up there. And I love the city of Toronto."
Strickland (28-5-0) won the 185-pound title in September when the American upset Israel (The Last Stylebender) Adesanya at UFC 293 in Sydney.
Du Plessis (20-2-0) has won his last eight fights, including all six in the UFC. Five of those UFC victories have been by stoppage. He is currently ranked second among middleweight contenders, behind the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based Adesanya.
Strickland, not known for his filter, did not welcome news of fighting north of the border.
"Well Canada, time to bring you all some freedom,'' he said on Instagram. "Didn't want to fight in January, or in Canada, but was asked to help a couple of ladies do their job. And they call me sexist.''
That was a reference to a fight between American Raquel (Rocky) Pennington and Brazil's Mayra Bueno Silva for the vacant UFC women's bantamweight title that reportedly will also be on the Toronto card.
Strickland also came under fire for sexist and misogynistic comments at a news conference before UFC 293.
Du Plessis is coming off a TKO win over former champion Robert Whittaker in a UFC 290 title eliminator bout in July.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2023.