SEAN STRICKLAND was left battered and bloodied as his reign as middleweight champion came to an early end.
The controversial American made the first defence of his 185lbs title on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 297 in Toronto.
Both men vowed to deliver a bloody war in the build-up to their Toronto tussle – and they well and truly made good on their promise.
Surging South African Du Plessis immediately sought to put the now-former champion on the backfoot with a mix of forward pressure and takedowns.
But Strickland’s sharper boxing and front kicks saw the judges give him the nod in the first stanza.
DDP got into his groove in the second and third rounds and began to put more venom in his shots.
But he eventually deviated from the leg kick well he was drawing from early doors after having several of them checked.
The former EFC two-division champion really turned up the heat in the fourth round, in which he drew blood thanks to a chopping right hand that cut the flesh under Strickland’s left eye.
Du Plessis further solidified the round with a big takedown, although he was unable to do anything with it.
Strickland’s head coach Erick Nicksick made an emotional plea to him ahead of the final round to pour out everything he had left in the tank to save his title.
Strickland tried his best to do just that but was unable to land the Hail Mary shot he needed to continue his reign as champion, although it wasn’t for the lack of trying.
The judges were torn with their verdict, turning in 48-47, 47-48, 48-47 scorecards in favour of DDP,
Victory over Strickland saw Du Plessis become South Africa’s first UFC champion and only the continent’s fourth titleholder in MMA’s top promotion.
After his historic triumph, an emotional Du Plessis roared: “This is history, South Africa!”
Du Plessis was full of praise for the former champion, saying: “Who says this guy is not a five-round fighter!?
“What did I tell you?
“He has a super strong jab, it feels like someone’s hit you with a rock, it’s very deceptive, I knew if I pressured I could get through it.
“I tried to kill you in there and you are one hell of a man, Strickland.”
Attention has already turned to who Du Plessis – who is now a three-promotion world champion – will face in his maiden title defence.
Khamzat Chimaev has already thrown his hat into the ring, calling for a UFC 300 showdown.
But unsurprisingly, Du Plessis has called out rival Israel Adesanya – who he’s been at loggerheads for nearly a year.
He said: “There’s a man who tried to take my shine, he lost his shine, and now I’ve got his shine.
“Israel Adesanya, get your ass back in this cage.”