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UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland isn’t expecting an easy night in his UFC 297 main event fight with South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis. 

The top 185-pounders are set to clash in the UFC’s first pay-per-view event of 2024 on January 20 and Strickland, who scored an emphatic decision victory against Israel Adesanya in his last content to win middleweight gold, says that the 20-2 Du Plessis (6-0 in the UFC) is just about as tough as they come — but apparently not quite tough enough.

“I think Dricus is like so awkward he’s good,” said Strickland on his personal YouTube channel, as reported by LowKick MMA. However, the American added that he doesn’t expect Du Plessis’ skills to stack up well against what the champion will bring with him to the cage in the event un Toronto, Canada. “It’s gonna be a f*cking war,” Strickland predicted. “He’ll be a tougher fight than Chimaev.”

Chimaev, of course, has been heralded as something of a boogeyman in first the UFC welterweight and now middleweight divisions, particularly after scoring his own conclusive victory against Kamaru Usman recently, albeit in a bout hastily-arranged by UFC matchmakers.

Du Plessis, the consistently-aggressive and powerful title contender, has earned his spot atop the January card by being near flawless in his UFC tenure to date. After making his debut for the organisation in October 2010, Du Plessis has recently scored a trio of impressive wins against Darren Till, Derek Brunson and, in July, he finished former champion Robert Whittaker in what was a surprise result in Las Vegas.

And if he can win one more fight, the 29-year-old will be bringing home UFC gold to the southern hemisphere early next year.