Being able to represent the South African flag isn’t something that Dricus Du Plessis takes lightly. After going 4-0 inside the UFC Octagon thus far, Du Plessis believes he is doing something special and unique, putting South Africa on the map as a place that breeds talent for MMA.
He shares the UFC 285 card with teammate Cameron Saaiman, who also represents the South African flag. This is the second time the two have shared a fight card together, the first coming last December at UFC 282. It’s a special moment for the two of them.
“There's obviously a lot of doubt, sometimes even in my own mind,” Du Plessis said. “Can we compete with the best of the best? Can we compete with our small gym back home in Pretoria, South Africa? Can we compete because the sport is so far behind in terms of if you look at the United States or a place like Brazil, even Russia, so are we doing the right thing? Every time I step in, every time I get a great win, and every time I get that that call, I just realize once again that we are doing something special, something unique, and people are figuring this out.”
The 29-year-old returns to T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, his fourth straight fight there, to face No. 5-ranked middleweight Derek Brunson after rattling off wins against Markus Perez, Trevin Giles, Brad Tavares and, most recently, Darren Till.
Fighting once again in the Las Vegas venue on a pay-per-view card is a comforting feeling for Du Plessis, but he’s found something much bigger than comfort being in the UFC.
“I think I found a home here,” Du Plessis said. “More importantly, I found a home in the Octagon. As soon as I made my debut there, I still needed to find my feet in there and now I have. Now I feel like even in the last fight, I felt I belong here, and I feel much more comfortable. Every time you come here, everything's more familiar, you know what to prepare and there's nothing surprising you other than the actual fight.”
The middleweight’s rise in the UFC has been a quick one, and only entering his third year as a UFC fighter, he has shown a lot about himself as a fighter over his last few bouts, particularly the last time around against Till, who he submitted in the third round. Prior to that fight, two out of his three fights ended by knockout.
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Not to mention that “Stillknocks” has been competing on high level pay-per-view cards such as McGregor vs Poirier 3, Błachowicz vs Ankalaev, and now the return of Jon Jones in his heavyweight debut. Du Plessis’ mindset remains the same, no matter who the headliner is, because when the UFC calls, he delivers.
“It's only now people are starting to see me,” Du Plessis said. “I've taken out a few names, a few greats in the sport and people that I truly admire and people I really look up to. It's incredible honor for me to share the cage with these guys and on the undercard of Jon Jones and Conor McGregor. I look at those folks and I'll get a little bit jealous because I want to be up there. I want to be the guy that people are excited to be on the undercard of. It's been an amazing journey.”
He isn’t necessarily shocked that he is doing extremely well and performing at a high level on these massive events; things are just going how they were planned out to be. And now he is getting to do it alongside Saaiman, who is entering his second UFC bout after winning in his debut at UFC 282.
Du Plessis has known Saaiman since he was 13 or 14 years old. He is now 22 years old, and Du Plessis is proud of the work he is putting into the sport that they share the same passion and love for.
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Saaiman and Du Plessis will aim to make their country proud once again on Saturday night but, for them, they are just proud to be living out a dream.
“For us to represent the flag of South Africa, having a whole country awake and going crazy in the middle of the night like we're fighting in the World Cup final is an absolute responsibility, an absolute pleasure and it's a massive honor for the both of us,” Du Plessis said. “Everybody is on the same team rooting for these two guys fighting in America. It's actually incredible every time I think about it that we've made it to this point.”
UFC 285: Jones vs Gane took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!