The 30-year-old came through an entertaining five round against Strickland in Toronto with a split-decision, winning 48-47 on two judges’ scorecards and losing by the same scoreline on the other.
Du Plessis appeared to lose the first round, win the next three and drop the final stanza to the defending champion, which was enough to get his hands on the belt.
The new champion’s perfect UFC record is extended to seven straight victories and he is looking at a former champ for the first defence of his title.
‘There was another guy who tried to take my shine,’ Du Plessis said in the cage after his win. ‘He lost his shine, now I have your shine.
‘He didn’t get into the cage tonight, but Israel Adesanya, get your ass back in the UFC so we can settle the score.’
Then middleweight champion Adesanya was planned to defend his title against Du Plessis at UFC 293 in September last year but the South African could not make the date due to injury. Strickland stepped in and caused a huge upset to win the belt.
It would be a tight turnaround, but UFC 300 on 13 April has been touted as a possibility for a Du Plessis vs Adesanya scrap for the 185lbs belt.
The former champion has not fought since losing to Strickland, taking a step back from the sport after a busy schedule finished with the shock defeat.
After the loss, which left him bleeding heavily by his left eye, Strickland praised the fans in Canada and made his call for a rematch.
‘Canada. I f***ing love you guys. You welcomed me, I feel like you guys are my family,’ he said. ‘I told you I would f***ing bleed for you and I bled for you and I would do it any day of the f***ing week.
‘Let’s run it back. Congrats champ, you’re the man. I’m outta here.’
UFC president Dana White felt that Strickland won the fight, so may not be opposed to giving the American another shot at the belt, if not next, but in the near future.
‘I had it 2-2 going into the last round and I thought Strickland won the last round,’ said White. ‘It was a close fight.’
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