Dricus du Plessis is without a fight and the 28-year-old middleweight lays the blame directly on the feet of injured Kelvin Gastelum.
“It’s his fault,” du Plessis said of Gastelum in a recent edition of MMA hour. “He postponed the cancellation of the fight. Nobody wants to fight on a week’s notice. It’s hard to fight, especially on a week’s notice. And then Gastelum arrives and waits until a week before the fight to suddenly say, “No, I’m injured”, while he insists on a new fight. It’s frustrating and a bit disrespectful to opponents and the sport as a whole.
Du Plessis, who is not among the top 15 fighters in the official UFC middleweight rankings, is 2-0 in the UFC and 16-2 overall. Du Plessis was originally scheduled to face Chris Curtis at UFC 273. Curtis pulled out of the fight with an injury, but as fate would have it, fellow middleweight Anthony Hernandez also had his opponent drop the card, Albert Duraev. UFC matchmakers then booked that fight. However, with Gastelum losing his original opponent, Nassourdine Imavov, due to visa issues, the UFC reached out to see if du Plessis was interested in stepping in to face Gastelum.
According to du Plessis, he accepted the match without hesitation.
“Damn, I’m going to fight,” Du Plessis said of his response to the UFC inquiry. “That’s who I’m supposed to fight anyway.”
Shortly after this call, du Plessis learned that Gastelum was out of action. He didn’t take the news well.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” du Plessis said of his reaction. “You are messing around. What is happening?”
Gastelum did not disclose the injury that forced him out of Saturday’s event in Jacksonville. At first he only said he was “compromised” and unable to compete.
“Who gets injured a week before a fight? asked du Plessis. “What could you have done to get injured, and if he was injured, you don’t know what the camp was like, but why would he insist on having a new opponent when he had to retire? … So he was not injured on Monday, because it is [when] he insisted on the fight, and all of a sudden he got injured on Friday? It seems very dodgy to me.
“I guess they started looking at tapes and that’s where the problems started, to be honest. … He really needs a win – let’s not beat around the bush, he needs a win – and this is a great opportunity for him. He fights a loud guy, a South African guy, he’s ranked No. 20, and he finds out, let’s get this fight easy and get into the win column. … Then he looked at the tape and realized that it was not a fight without surprises.
On Monday evening, John Morgan reported that he had talked to the manager of Gastelumwho told him the former UFC middleweight title interim challenger would be undergoing knee surgery next week.
Du Plessis was unable to return to the fight against Hernandez, as the UFC had previously faced Hernandez against Josh Fremd. Losing the fight and the time and money he spent preparing for UFC 273 did not sit well with du Plessis.
“I’m not mad at the UFC; it’s a bit out of their control, to be honest,” he said. “I’m mad at Kelvin. No disrespect, I’ve always been a fan, but right now what he’s done is he’s literally taken food off my table. I don’t even care about the money. I was there to become champion as soon as possible, to get into that top 10, and he took advantage of my opportunity to play. He took it away from me – he took the eight weeks of hard and intense training, my 12 weeks at camp – he took all that away from me, all the hard work, everything that was spent from coaches to nutritionists, all that put in some kind of effort to get to this point. He took it off because he didn’t feel like fighting. He didn’t like risk, and he made me drop my opponent.
“It’s his fault. He postponed to cancel the fight. Nobody wants to fight on a week’s notice. It’s hard to fight, especially on a week’s notice. And there Gastelum comes and waits until a week before the fight to suddenly say, “No, I’m hurt”, when he insists on a new fight. It’s frustrating and a bit disrespectful to opponents and the sport in its entirety.
UFC 273 takes place on Saturday, April 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN and ESPN+ and early prelims on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+.