The build to the middleweight championship bout, which takes place at Scotiabank Arena and airs on pay-per-view has taken a dark turn in the lead-up. After Du Plessis (20-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC) made some comments about Strickland’s abusive childhood at their December press conference, the pair got into a cageside brawl at UFC 296.
The weeks that have followed have consisted of Strickland (28-5 MMA, 15-5 UFC) issuing a warning about Du Plessis talking about his past. The reigning champ even went as far as threatening to stab Du Plessis if he went down that road, to which the challenger responded by saying he had no fear of such a situation.
“That’s pretty intense,” Du Plessis told MMA Junkie and other reporters at Wednesday’s UFC 297 media day. “I don’t know the legislation around here, but that seems like Team Strickland needs to step in and check their boy. When this whole thing occurred where he said, ‘If you do this again.’ He said he’d kill me. He didn’t say stab me. When he said kill, I said, ‘OK, he’s probably going to shoot me then.’ But when I saw a knife I said, ‘No, that’s not going to work. You won’t touch me with that knife. I’ll knock you out way before you get to stab me.’
“Am I scared that he self-sabotages this fight? Sure. That is something I’ve thought about, that he’d maybe try anything to get out of it. But no, no, no. For me, right now the last press conference was winning on the mic. That was winning against Sean Strickland at his own game. Right now this week, where we’re at, I’m not here to do that. I’m here to be the middleweight champion of the world. My focus is on fighting and not making jokes or getting the crowd to laugh. That’s not why I’m here. I already won that battle. I won. Right now the battle is the one coming Saturday night.”
Du Plessis admits he was somewhat motivated to tone down pushing on Strickland’s history of the initial exchange, because it was a request from the champion. Du Plessis confirmed that Strickland privately messaged him on social media, and after a brief conversation, he obliged in keeping all talk in bounds going forward.
“He messaged me saying something along the lines of, ‘Listen, this is what happened. I’m sorry what I said about your coach and you. But if there’s anything that’s crossing the line for you – listen, I know we’re selling a fight and all that, but if there’s anything out of line that I said that you want me, I’ll apologize, I’ll take back what I said and I’ll remove those posts,'” Du Plessis said. “I feel this is not a great move, but he brought it up. I would’ve never told the media about this. This happened five weeks ago. I wouldn’t want to expose a man in that way. It’s not my style. I was surprised when I saw him make it public when he did message me, because I wouldn’t want to out him on that. But since we’re talking about it.
“He said if I bring up his childhood again, he said, ‘I’ll kill you and ruin your life and mine way before we step into the cage.’ Those are exactly his words. I’m like, ‘OK, this poor guy seems pretty serious. I feel bad for him.’ But I just replied and said, ‘Listen, there’s nothing you can say that has any effect on me. Go crazy. You’re talking about me kissing other dudes? I have more photos. I’ll post them online. I don’t care. You think I care? I’m completely comfortable with my sexuality. Have you seen my girl?’ Yeah. I don’t care about that. Kissing my coach, kissing my dad, kissing my brother. I don’t feel – people are saying, ‘That’s gay.’ So what? I don’t care. I love those people. That’s my family. There’s nothing you can say that can get to me. I’m the mentally strongest fighter in the world. I told him, ‘You can say literally whatever you want, but I won’t say anything about your childhood again.’ That’s how it came about.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 297.