Middleweight title on the line as UFC returns to Toronto with January card

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American Sean Strickland will make his first middleweight title defence against South Africa’s Dricus du Plessis at UFC 297 in Toronto on Jan. 20.

The matchup of two hard hitters was one of three planned bouts in the New Year announced Monday by UFC president Dana White in a social media post. Strickland confirmed the time and place in a separate post.

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The January card will be the UFC’s first in Toronto since Dec. 8, 2018, when then-featherweight champion Max Holloway won a bloody, lopsided TKO over No. 1 challenger Brian Ortega during UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena.

Strickland (28-5-0) won the 185-pound title in September when he upset Israel Adesanya at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia.

Du Plessis (20-2-0) has won his last eight fights, including all six in the UFC. Five of those UFC victories have been by stoppage. He is  ranked second among middleweight contenders behind the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based Adesanya.

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Strickland, not known for his filter, did not welcome news of fighting north of the border.

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“Well Canada, time to bring you all some freedom,” he said on Instagram. “Didn’t want to fight in January or in Canada, but was asked to help a couple of ladies do their job. And they call me sexist.”

That appears to be a reference to a fight between American Raquel Pennington and Brazil’s Mayra Bueno Silva for the vacant UFC women’s bantamweight title that reportedly will also be on the Toronto card.

Strickland came under fire for sexist and misogynistic comments at a news conference before UFC 293.

His social media post featured a pro-U.S. raunchy music clip from the 2004 film Team America: World Police.

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Du Plessis is coming off a TKO win over former champion Robert Whittaker in a UFC 290 title eliminator bout in July.

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The other fights announced by White were UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski of Australia against No. 5 contender Ilia Topuria of Spain in February at UFC 298 and bantamweight titleholder Sean O’Malley of the U.S. against Ecuador’s Marlon Vera in March at UFC 299.

“Busting into the new year with some fun fights,” said White.

The UFC has held 32 cards in Canada, debuting in April 2008 with UFC 83 in Montreal with the most recent event being UFC 289 in June in Vancouver. The shows have taken place in 11 cities with Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Moncton, N.B., Ottawa, Quebec City, Saskatoon and Winnipeg also hosting UFC cards.

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