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UFC 297 fight fallout: Next options for Dricus du Plessis, Sean Strickland and Raquel Pennington

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The UFC middleweight championship took a detour through Sean Strickland but it might head back to its original destination: Dricus du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya. A new champion was crowned at UFC 297 on Saturday and he’s reigniting an old rivalry.

Du Plessis and Adesanya were on a nasty collision course after both men won last year. Who the true African champion is became their ugly point of contention. Du Plessis, unable to make a short turnaround from July to September, was passed over in favor of Strickland. The American fighter shocked the world as a big underdog against Adesanya but fell just short in his first title defense. Du Plessis captured the UFC middleweight title via split decision in Toronto this weekend. The title picture has come full circle to Du Plessis and Adesanya. It’s the fight the new champ wants and it might be where we’re headed.

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Strickland has compelling options despite defeat, plus there’s a new UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Let’s break down the best fights to make in the aftermath of UFC 297.

Middleweight division

UFC middleweight championship — Dricus du Plessis vs. Israel Adesanya: You have to think UFC is scrambling to book du Plessis vs. Adesanya for UFC 300. The milestone card is without a main event and this is the sexiest fight they can book with what’s available. Du Plessis and Adesanya were headed towards a tasteless title feud, which can be an easy promotion for the company. Du Plessis made it clear that’s the fight he wants next. Adesanya is working on a comeback after cutting his hiatus short but there are no guarantees he’ll be ready in time for UFC 300 in April. It’s too soon to tell if du Plessis will be medically cleared either. UFC 300 or not, it’s the direction we’re likely headed. UFC president Dana White expects to have updates on du Plessis and Adesanya next week.

Sean Strickland vs. Khamzat Chimaev: Chimaev is the odd man out at middleweight. White said his fight with Kamaru Usman was a title eliminator but he might have to wait. Chimaev found himself in the unusual position of losing steam in victory. Usman was shockingly competitive in his short-notice middleweight debut. Chimaev could wait for Adesanya and Du Plessis to clear things up but he might want to stay active. Strickland lost a narrow split decision and could find himself fighting for the title again next year. Book Strickland vs. Chimaev and give the winner a title shot. Alternatively, the winner of Robert Whittaker vs. Paulo Costa would be a fresh matchup for Strickland.

Women’s bantamweight division

UFC women’s bantamweight champion — Raquel Pennington vs. Julianna Pena: There are a lot of fans turned off by Pena’s approach to self-promotion. It’s irritating and unrefined but at least she tries. That’s more than you can say about 90% of the UFC roster. The women’s bantamweight division is no more interesting after UFC 297. Pena is the promotion’s best chance of injecting something resembling life into the division. Plus, she’s a former champion and ranked No. 1 by the UFC’s official rankings. It checks enough uninspired boxes to book it.

Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Irene Aldana: It’s amazing what one fight can do for someone’s image. Aldana delivered a stinker against Amanda Nunes at UFC 289 in June. Aldana was dominated in a lifeless effort. Shift to December and Aldana nearly stole Fight of the Year honors with an inspired win over Karol Rosa. Now it’s Bueno Silva who needs to restart. It’s a compelling matchup between two women who are known to scrap when the lights aren’t the brightest.

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