Former middleweight champion Sean Strickland is a rising star in the UFC, and with that spotlight comes a lot more attention to the things he does and says.
He courted controversy (and deportation) when he punched a fan in Australia days before fighting Israel Adesanya for the title. And then he went on a homophobic and transphobic tirade during UFC 297 media day in Toronto.
In pretty much any other sports league in North America, talk like that will get you slapped with a fine and / or suspension. In the UFC, it’s just personal expression. At the UFC 297 post-fight press conference, UFC CEO Dana White said there was “zero” conversation with broadcast partners or sponsors over Strickland’s latest controversy.
“You ask me some stupid sh*t like that? Go f*ck yourself.”
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) January 17, 2024
“I don’t tell anyone to do anything,” White said. “I don’t try to control any other human beings in any way, shape, or form. I say it all the time, we’re in the fight business and if you get your feelings hurt that bad, you probably shouldn’t ask the type of questions when you know the answers you’re gonna get from Strickland. Let’s start there.”
White placed the blame on MMA Fighting reporter Alexander K. Lee, who asked “Tarzan” if he stood by past comments about the LGBTQ community.
“If you ask him — you know who he is — and if you ask him a certain question? He was baited with that question.”
Later in the press conference, White cut off another reporter who asked about the ‘long leash’ he gives outspoken fighters like Strickland.
“I don’t give anyone ‘a leash.’” White said angrily. “A leash? Free speech. Control what people say? Gonna tell people what to believe? I don’t f—ing tell any other human being what to say, what to think, and there’s no leashes on any of them.”
“That’s ridiculous to say I give somebody a leash,” he continued. “Free speech, brother. People can say whatever they want and they can believe whatever they want. We had two gay women who fought in the co-main event. They sat on the stage with Sean Strickland. They could give a s— what Sean Strickland thinks, or what he says. Or what his beliefs are, or what his opinions are.”