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Just what the hell is Dricus du Plessis trying to say? The potential middleweight title contender opened a big can of worms when he told Dan Hardy, back in 2020, that he wanted to be the “first real African champ; trained, born, bred in Africa.” It’s clearly been a way to blow his own horn and to celebrate the work that he’s put in, basing his combat sports journey out of a part of the world whose MMA scene is only beginning to pick up steam.
But it’s also felt like a pot-shot at fighters like Kamaru Usman, Francis Ngannou, and most particularly Israel Adesanya, who have all, at various points had their achievements celebrated as those of African champions in MMA. It especially can’t help feel targeted when du Plessis has made statements like this:
“Did those belts ever go to Africa?” Du Plessis said at a UFC media event back in March. “As far as I know, they came to America and New Zealand. I’m going to take a belt to Africa.”
“I’m the African fighting in the UFC. Myself and Cameron [Saaiman], we breathe African air. We wake up in Africa every day. We train in Africa, we’re Africa born, we’re Africa raised, we still reside in Africa, we train out of Africa. That’s an African champion, and that’s who I’ll be.”
It’s a rhetorical path that’s created a lot of solid heat for du Plessis for a potential future fight with Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title, but it’s also created a lot of backlash. Including from fellow African born and trained fighter Themba Gorimbo. It may be that it’s becoming a narrative that du Plessis won’t want to make the defining point of his career.
Dricus Du Plessis clarifies, but won’t backpedal on ‘Real African’ comments
In a recent interview with Submission Radio, du Plessis got back into the discussion of just what he means and what he’s trying to say by taking shots at other fighters from the African continent. Despite continuously referring to himself as the ‘first real African’, in his mind, that doesn’t suggest that Ngannou, Adesanya, and Usman are less African than him.
“I’ve never said the words ‘more African’ in my life,” Du Plessis said when asked about his statements (transcript via MMA Mania). “I didn’t say they were not African. I didn’t say they were not African. I stated facts. I am the only one in title contention ever to be born in Africa, live in Africa, reside in Africa and train there every single day.
“That was my statement,” he continued. “Some people say I’m backpedaling. I’ve never backpedaled. I’m sticking with that because that is the fact. I never said the words, ‘I’m more African.’ I never said that they were not African or that they were fake Africans. I never said that in my life. I simply stated the facts.”
Israel Adesanya’s Chinese heritage?
The Team CIT MMA fighter made a special point of prodding Adesanya for getting riled about national identity, considering that beyond his representation of New Zealand and Nigeria, he’s also waved the flag for China in the past as well.
“Black outside, China inside. I am Chinese,” Adesanya said in a promo video made during his kickboxing days, in which he also stated that he hoped to buy a house and live in China some day.
“He’s referred to himself as a Kiwi,” Du Plessis said. “He’s referred to himself as Chinese, he’s referred to himself as Nigerian. At the end of the day, he’s born in Africa. He is African. But he does not reside here, and that is the fact. That is what makes me and him different.”
Maybe it’s a good idea that the UFC started getting rid of the country flags during walkouts. Sooner or later it would probably be for the best if Du Plessis could just put this culture war to bed.
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