Written by Dillon Louw (@TheMMA_Arsenal) — July 21st 2020
Dricus “Stillknocks” du Plessis is the next featured athlete in my international prospects series.
He is the reigning middleweight champion in the EFC, and former welterweight champion in the EFC and KSW. Dricus has achieved great success in his martial arts career thus far, despite being only 26 years of age. “Stillknocks” has amassed a 14–2 record, going 9–1 as a middleweight and 5–1 as a welterweight, and will be looking to join the UFC soon in an attempt to stake his claim on the UFC middleweight title.
Dricus is a modern day mixed martial artist, he does not have a certain base or style, and is more than competent to hold his own wherever the fight might go. Now 16 fights into his career, the South African has never had a fight go the distance. What stands out most is his prominent ability to choke opponents, with 9 submissions, 4 coming via guillotine choke and 5 via rear naked choke.
Where it all started…
Dricus was exposed to martial arts at the age of 5, in the form of judo, which he practiced for about 6 years. At the age of 14, ironically, he discovered mixed martial arts by watching the film “Never Back Down”. He remembers thinking “this is the coolest thing i’ve ever seen” and that is where the dream to become a fighter started.
After watching the film, “Stillknocks” transitioned over to K-1 kickboxing. He signed up for his first kickboxing fight without any coaching or experience in a gym, all he had was a bag. Fast forward another few years, and by the age of 18, Dricus was a K-1 world champion. Despite his early success in kickboxing, Dricus says the goal was always to transition into MMA as he already had the judo and wrestling background combined with his kickboxing prowess.
Dricus believes his fighting style is unique, and as much as he would like to think of himself as a technical striker, he describes himself as a “hard” fighter. He likes to push the pace, overwhelming his opponents, and believes he is a very physically strong fighter. However, he says beating his opponents mentally, before physically beating them, is a big deal for him.
du Plessis aims to inspire younger fighters by example. He didn’t get as far as he did by being talented, but through sheer determination and hard work.
On his KSW contract dispute…
Dricus’ current KSW contract is of such a nature that he could fight anywhere in the world, outside of Poland, for any organization. This is why he has been able to compete in KSW and the EFC simultaneously. During his trip to the USA earlier this year, Dricus got offers from various MMA promotions, including PFL, Bellator and the UFC. Despite the various opportunities, the UFC contract is what Dricus has been working toward his entire life.
Subsequently, UFC contracts do not allow athletes to compete in any other organizations while signed to them, so he requested KSW to release him early from his contract with them, which was declined.
du Plessis’ KSW contract will expire by the end of October, so when I asked him about his plans for the meantime, he said he will wait for the KSW contract to expire and attempt to fight in the EFC in the meantime.
On his preferred route to the UFC…
Although the UFC contract offer is still on the table, Dricus would like to win another two or three fights by the end of the year, before he joins the UFC. “StillKnocks” has received offers to fight on Dana White’s Contender Series, but he prefers to take another route. Dricus would like to come into the UFC with a level of hype, and not via the Contender Series, as he believes the Contender Series route is a challenging one to take, posing high risk for very little reward.
du Plessis aims to win as many titles outside the UFC as possible, and is currently working on fighting for the EFC light heavyweight title. Preferably, he would take a route similar to the one Justin Gaethje took, coming in and fighting top 15 opponents. He would like to reach a title shot in approximately two years and after three or four fights.
Dricus has trained with some of the best mixed martial artists in the world, including former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, current ONE middleweight and light heavyweight champion Aung La Nsang, current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, and perennial welterweight contender Gilbert Burns.
On Israel Adesanya, and the UFC middleweight division…
Approximately 6 years ago, around 2 years into his professional career, the South-African native trained with Israel Adesanya (current UFC middleweight champion) at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand. Dricus says back then his striking game wasn’t near the level it is now, and obviously Israel’s wrestling and grappling wasn’t where it is right now. Therefore, Dricus says during their striking exchanges Israel “kicked his ass” and he doesn’t mind admitting that. However, on the ground and during the wrestling exchanges Dricus claims to have destroyed him, he says that it wasn’t even competitive.
“Stillknocks” says that Adesanya has phenomenal striking and that he is a very tall middleweight, whereas Dricus is a physically bigger and stronger athlete.
When asked about a potential matchup, Dricus said on fighting a guy like Izzy, that one should not play his game,
“don’t be fancy and try to outstrike him with better technique, because you’re not going to, that’s his game.”
du Plessis says making it a dog fight is the way to go, similar to the approach of Kelvin Gastelum.
Dricus predicts that Paulo Costa will beat Adesanya, and claims that Costa is the best middleweight in the world.
du Plessis believes Costa gives himself a tougher fight than Israel will. He admires Costa’s takedown defence, as well as his punching power. Simultaneously taking a jab at Adesanya, claiming that the champion doesn’t have much punching power.
On switching camps…
Dricus isn’t interested in moving camps, stating that his camp made him a 3-time world champion. He believes his camp has pushed him further than anyone ever has and although he has trained all over the world, he always will come home for camp.
He plans to move to the USA but he would like to take a big part of his team with him, including his mental coach, his strength and conditioning coach, and his head coach. He is aiming to be in a position that would enable him to take his coaches over to Florida and work with the team at Sanford MMA (previously Hardknocks 365). He holds Henri Hooft and Craig Jones in very high regard.
On MMA in Africa…
“Stillknocks” believes none of his international opponents have been as tough as Africans. He claims that Africans have a natural feel for fighting, and believes Africa as a continent has a lot to offer the fight world. “In 5 years time we will see South-Africa and Africa as a whole represented a lot more on the biggest stage in the world.”
On his weight, and future plans…
According to the man himself, we won’t be seeing him at welterweight again as he walks around at around 210lbs. He had to cut 20lbs in fight week for his last welterweight fight in which he lost his KSW title to Roberto Soldic.
Dricus says he will never use the tough weight cut as an excuse because it is a part of the fight game. However, he feels as though he was taking years off his career and he isn’t willing to do that anymore. He claims to feel great at middleweight. He is a big middleweight and even wants to fight for the EFC light heavyweight belt soon. Furthermore, he stated that the EFC heavyweight belt is not out of the conversation either, although he won’t be looking to get any bigger for these higher-weight fights.
Dricus wants to push himself as far as he can go while he is still fighting locally, not just competing but attempting to do something spectacular.
He aims to become the first four-weight-division champion, and building this type of legacy is what it’s all about for the Pretoria native.
On the biggest moments of his career…
When he started training kickboxing as a teenager, Dricus went to watch his first live EFC event and recalls thinking that one day his dream would be to compete in the EFC. Here he is now, a two division world champion. How times have changed.
For Dricus, the biggest moments of his career began with his professional MMA debut. At the first live event he attended, he had the opportunity to take a photo with then-EFC welterweight champion Martin van Staden. In a prophetic changing of the guard, Dricus would go on to win his first professional title against none other than Martin van Staden at EFC 50. The bout was a crowning achievement for du Plessis, seeing his idol become his rival.
However, for Dricus, nothing can top going up to middleweight and beating the champion Yannick Bahati. Being a two-division champion was the biggest moment for him, although not the biggest achievement. His biggest achievement is becoming KSW champ, and therefore becoming the first South African fighter to win a title in a top-5 promotion, which remains the highest accolade for any fighter from the country.
Personally, I am eager to see Dricus cross over to the UFC and represent the motherland. He has the physical ability, the talent, and most importantly the mindset required to succeed at the highest of level.