UFC 297 on Jan. 20 in Toronto, Canada, will mark the first pay-per-view billing for the UFC in 2024. Middleweight champion Sean Strickland will lock horns with surging South African contender Dricus Du Plessis in the main event of the evening.
Strickland, who recently dethroned Israel Adesanya for undisputed middleweight gold, will look to complete his first title defense. Tensions will be high at the Scotiabank Arena following the pair’s brawl at UFC 296. Others have suggested Du Plessis may have managed to get under the champion’s skin.
Du Plessis is riding an eight-fight win streak, including wins over Robert Whittaker, Derek Brunson, Darren Till, and Brad Tavares. “I am here to be the middleweight champion of the world,” Du Plessis said at media day. Explosiveness and sharp striking will be the challengers’ keys to victory to becoming the UFC’s first South African champion.
For Strickland, a performance reminiscent of his last against long-time champion Adesanya may be useful against Du Plessis. Strickland’s unconventional striking has proven to be a problem for many.
“I think this is going to be a harder fight than Izzy [Adesanya],” as the Xtreme Couture fighter acknowledged the challenge ahead, he will look to back up his title win from September 2023 to keep the belt in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Title stakes are on the line in the co-main event as bantamweights Raquel “Rocky” Pennington and Mayra “Sheetara” Bueno Silva collide in a fight for the vacant women’s bantamweight title which the recently retired Amanda Nunes previously held.
Pennington, who already fell short fighting for undisputed gold, will have her second shot at the belt against another Brazilian fighter, this time in Bueno Silva. Currently holding a 5-fight win streak, “Rocky” is ready for the big stage; she mentioned on Wednesday, “This last year has been one of the best years of my life, and I’m more motivated than ever.”
Bueno Silva on the other hand, is fresh off of an impressive performance against former champion Holly Holm. “Sheetara” raised many eyebrows that night, and although the victory was overturned into a No Contest, the UFC still granted her the opportunity to fight for gold. This is a very important match for the women’s bantamweight division in what we may call the ‘post-Nunes’ era.
Right before the two title fights, Canadian prospect Mike “Proper” Mallot will put his 10-1 record on the line against respected veteran Neil “Haitian Sensation” Magny. A win in front of his home crowd over Magny could propel Mallot into an even bigger fight the next time he steps inside the octagon.
Magny will look to de-rail the Canadian hype train and avoid becoming a mere stepping stone for Mallot. Magny’s experience will come into play, as a win here for the “Haitian Sensation” would be a great start to his 2024.
Preceding the welterweight showdown will be a middleweight battle between Strickland’s Xtreme Couture teammate Chris Curtis and Canadian 185er Marc-André Barriault. Barriault won his previous two fights to Julian Marquez and Eryk Anders. Like Mallot, a win here could set Barriault up for an even bigger fight, but it will not be easy against the always-ready Curtis.
Curtis’ last three fights consist of a win over Joaquin Buckley, a loss to Kelvin Gastelum, and a No Contest with Nassourdine Imavov. Curtis is eager to return to his winning ways and will look to “put on a show,” as he mentioned on UFC Embedded.
Kicking off the pay-per-view portion, English featherweight Arnold “Almighty” Allen will defend his ranking against the highly touted Russian prospect Movsar Evloev. Allen is coming off a loss against Max Holloway in April of 2023. After suffering his first loss inside the UFC, “Almighty” has high hopes for what is to come post-fight this weekend, stating “This is the fight that puts me back into the title picture.”
Across from Allen, undefeated featherweight Movsar Evloev will take part in his biggest test to date in the promotion. Evloev is coming off a close win over fan favorite Diego Lopes at UFC 288 in May 2023. Evloev was initially supposed to compete against Bryce Mitchell that night, but he now receives his big test on Saturday, eight months later. A win here over Allen can set up Evloev nicely in the title talks in the always entertaining featherweight division.
UFC 297 goes down on Jan. 20 at 3:30 p.m. PST, with the main card starting at 7 p.m. PST