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UFC 297 predictions — Sean Strickland vs. Dricus du Plessis: Fight card, odds, prelims, preview, expert picks

One of the UFC’s most controversial fighters returns in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 297 card. In that fight, Sean Strickland will make the first defense of his middleweight championship against top contender Dricus du Plessis.

Strickland has divided the MMA fanbase with controversial comments, representing a shift in the UFC’s willingness to mix politics and sports. Strickland pulled off a huge upset over Israel Adesanya to win the title in a fight that only came about because du Plessis was unable to face Adesanya when offered. In du Plessis, Strickland faces another man who rose to the top of the division with an upset over an elite fighter, having stopped Robert Whittaker in his most recent outing.

There is one other championship bout set for the event, with Mayra Bueno Silva set to meet Raquel Pennington for the vacant women’s bantamweight title. This is Pennington’s second shot at a UFC championship, having lost to Amanda Nunes in 2018. The belt is now up for grabs after Nunes retired from active competition in 2023.

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With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 297 fight card, odds

  • Sean Strickland (c) -110 vs. Dricus du Plessis -110, middleweight title
  • Mayra Bueno Silva -170 vs. Raquel Pennington +145, women’s bantamweight title
  • Mike Malott -370 vs. Neil Magny +290, welterweights
  • Chris Curtis -190 vs. Marc-Andre Barriault +160, middleweights
  • Movsar Evloev -200 vs. Arnold Allen +170, featherweights
  • Brad Katona -210 vs. Garrett Armfield +175, bantamweights
  • Charles Jourdain -205 vs. Sean Woodson +170, featherweights
  • Serhiy Sidey -180 vs. Ramon Taveras +155, bantamweights
  • Gillian Robertson -320 vs. Polyana Viana +250, women’s strawweights
  • Yohan Lainesse -150 vs. Sam Patterson +125, welterweights
  • Jasmine Jasudavicius -380 vs. Priscila Cachoeira +300, women’s flyweights
  • Malcolm Gordon -220 vs. Jimmy Flick +180, flyweights

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 297 picks, predictions

Campbell Brookhouse Mahjouri Mormile Wise
Strickland (c) vs. du Plessis du Plessis du Plessis Strickland Strickland du Plessis
Pennington vs. Bueno Silva Silva Silva Silva Silva Silva
Malott vs. Magny Malott Malott Malott Malott Malott
Curtis vs. Barriault Barriault Curtis Curtis Curtis Curtis
Evloev vs. Allen Allen Allen Allen Allen Evloev

Strickland vs. du Plessis

Campbell: For as perfect as Strickland was in upsetting Israel Adesanya in September, there’s a reason why styles make fights. Strickland was nearly flawless in his striking execution that night, while controlling distance and using sound defense in close to frustrate the former champion. But the lack of takedown threat or physicality from Adesanya was a luxury that Strickland simply won’t enjoy against the mammoth du Plessis. Even though “DDP” was much more raw upon his UFC arrival in 2020, the technical aspects of his game have evolved quickly, as evidenced in his own 2023 upset of former champion Robert Whittaker. Strickland has a history of problems with elite power punchers, which means it wouldn’t be out of the question for du Plessis to get his hand raised via knockout. 

Mahjouri: Strickland has an offensive juggernaut in front of him equipped to strike and grapple. Strickland needs rock-solid defense if he wants to mute DDP’s offense. The South African fighter has better technique and cardio than he’s credited for, but his sheer commitment to attacking creates openings and awkward entanglements. Du Plessis isn’t perfect but he’s potent. Fortunately, Strickland has some of MMA’s best minds cornering him. Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick was rightfully lauded as Coach of the Year by many pundits. Nicksick is an expert game planner and Strickland puts a lot of faith in his team. Brad Tavares, another Xtreme Couture regular, is the only UFC fighter to take Du Plessis the distance. Du Plessis won two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards but that experience will be invaluable in helping Strickland’s team finetune their approach. Give me Strickland by decision.

Pennington vs. Silva

Campbell: Despite the decided lack of buzz for this vacant title bout between top contenders, the expectations are high that this will be competitive. But when comparing the skills of each fighter, it’s hard not to swing Silva’s way due to her strength on the ground, primarily as a submission threat. In fact, Silva forced a tap out of former champion Holly Holm in her last fight only to see it changed to a no contest after an irregular drug test result. Holm was the same fighter who owns two victories over Pennington, who is durable and solid yet anything but spectacular despite owning the current longest win streak in the division. With former champion Julianna Pena likely on deck for the winner, look for Silva to have her moment in the sun as the title stays in Brazil following Amanda Nunes’ 2023 retirement. 

Mahjouri: Silva comes to scrap. Stopping 41-year-old Holly Holm isn’t the accomplishment it once was but she’s the only person other than former champions Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate to do so in MMA. The result was later overturned due to a metabolite in her ADHD medication but it’s still a worthy feat. Silva is undefeated in four fights at bantamweight and looks to be a player for years to come. Pennington’s five-fight winning streak is the best of her 20-plus fight, 12-year-long career. What Pennington is doing right now deserves tremendous respect. Not many fighters experience such a late-career bloom. Pennington is another fighter difficult to stop, but I think Silva has what it takes to find the submission inside three rounds.

Malott vs. Magny

Campbell: With a powerhouse build and six straight stoppage wins, Malott has become an intriguing prospect at 170 pounds. Expect the native of Canada to be buoyed by the huge crowd support in Toronto as he faces the 36-year-old Magny, who has split wins and losses in each of his last six fights. Magny remains a strong litmus test for the division as an elite gatekeeper, but the submission threat of Malott will likely be too much, even with Magny’s seven-inch reach advantage coming in.  

Brookhouse: This is one of the most exciting types of fights, seeing an exciting fighter on the rise come up against a seasoned veteran in a big step-up fight. Malott is a dangerous fighter who is always looking for the finish and Magny isn’t impossible to stop. That said, Magny is no stranger to defying the odds and isn’t going to roll over for Malott. The Canadian is likely too strong and too dangerous to fall into that trap but the upset alert is on high for this one.

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