The UFC is looking to start locking down their schedule for 2024. The world’s largest MMA promotion is closing out their year not on a high note, as they’d hoped, but instead on a series of consolation prize fights.
What had been meant to be a fantastic end of the year run, starting with a September PPV event between Israel Adesanya and divisional rival Dricus Du Plessis, followed by Islam Makhachev vs. Charles Oliveira 2 and then Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic and Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler instead became Adesanya vs. Strickland, Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2, Jiri Prochazka vs. Alex Pereira, and Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington.
UFC announces first PPVs for 2024
Unfortunately for the UFC, they can’t course correct things all that easily. Conor McGregor’s drug testing odyssey seemingly has the UFC intent on meeting the 6-month on-boarding schedule set by USADA, even as they plan on dumping the agency for a new set of partners in 2024. Also, Jon Jones’ pectoral injury that knocked him out of UFC 295, should have him sidelined until Summer (International Fight Week seem like a probable landing). But, the UFC still has plenty of other champions looking to get a chance to defend.
Most notable among them, Sean Strickland, who shocked the MMA world by upsetting Adesanya at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia. The Xtreme Couture talent seemed primed for a potential rematch with the ‘Last Stylebender’, but with Adesanya seemingly looking for a lengthy hiatus from competition instead, a familiar contender has gotten the call. That’s according to UFC CEO Dana White, who announced a trio of title fights in a video released to social media.
“What’s up guys?! I’m gonna hit you with three more PPV headliners,” White announced. “In January we’re doing Sean Strickland vs. Dricus Du Plessis. In February, we’re doing Volkanovski vs. Topuria. And in March, we’re doing O’Malley vs. Vera. Bustin’ into the new year with some fun fights. I’ll see you guys in New York City.”
Putting a few extra details to White’s news: That means UFC 297 will be headlined by Sean Strickland vs. Dricus Du Plessis on January 20th in Toronto. That card had originally been intended for Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ilia Topuria, before Volkanovski’s short notice KO loss to Islam Makhachev at UFC 294. Interestingly Makhachev vs. Oliveira 2 had been rumored to headline the UFC 297 card alongside a woman’s bantamweight title fight between Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Raquel Pennington just days before this announcement. No news yet as to when (or if) those bouts might happen.
UFC 298, on February 17th, will now feature Volkanovski vs. Topuria. That card is rumored to be going down in Los Angeles, CA, however a venue and location have not yet been made official. And finally UFC 299 will feature Sean O’Malley vs. Marlon Vera 2, on March 9th, at a location yet to be announced.
That news very likely lines up to leave Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler as the main event of UFC 300, although that card has yet to be announced on the UFC schedule at this time.
Dricus du Plessis title shot saga
As mentioned above, Dricus Du Plessis had been set to challenge Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title at UFC 293 in September. It was a matchup destined for failure from the Endeavor-owned promotion, who had booked Du Plessis in a top contender’s bout against former champion Robert Whittaker just two months earlier at UFC 290.
After the upset victory for the South African over his Aussie opponent, he had a big in-Octagon showdown with Adesanya. Shortly afterward, the UFC were forced to announce that he had turned down the bout due to injury. Dana White fired a shot at Du Plessis shortly after Sean Strickland’s victory over the City Kickboxing star.
“So, everything that we’re talking about right now about how crazy this sport is, when opportunities arise, you jump on them and you take them,” White told reporters after UFC 293. “You should never turn down fights when you get the call, especially if it’s for a world title.”
Du Plessis responds
Speaking to the MMA Hour shortly after Strickland’s win Du Plessis responded to White’s passive aggression, as well as talk that Adesanya might be in line for an immediate rematch.
“I honestly thought my commitment towards the company and my commitment to take fights when the UFC called—when they called and said, ‘We want to do a Whittaker fight,’ we took that fight,” Du Plessis explained, feeling he had already showed his loyalty to the UFC (transcript via MMA Fighting). “Everybody said how dumb I was to take that fight, because the Izzy fight could have been made. And I said, I’m not here to be smart, I’m here to fight. I took that fight without hesitation. That was kind of my saving grace. I’m injured. What do you want from me? There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“The UFC, they’ve been talking about the problem in the middleweight division is Izzy has run through the whole division, some people twice,” he added, speaking of a possible Adesanya/Strickland rematch. “Now they have the opportunity, the division is open. You gave him the benefit of the doubt, you gave him his Get Out of Jail card by giving him the rematch against Pereira. You don’t get two of those. The division is open now, and right now, he needs to, just like the rest, earn his spot to fight for that belt again.”
Fortunately for Du Plessis, it seems like fortune has broken his way. As unhappy as the UFC might have been with his inability to take the Adesanya fight, a potential top contender’s bout between Khamzat Chimaev and Paulo Costa at UFC 294 turned into Chimaev vs. Kamaru Usman, and a less than thrilling win for the Chechen, who then sounded distinctly uninterested in fighting for gold. With Adesanya on the sidelines as well, Du Plessis is once again the man of the moment.
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