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UFC Vegas 47: Sean Strickland’s ‘lololol look how crazy I am’ shtick could stymie global MMA growth

UFC Fight Night: Hall v Strickland Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Sean Strickland has your attention.

The 30 year-old middleweight will battle No. 6-ranked contender Jack Hermansson in the UFC Vegas 47 main event, which takes place this Sat. night (Feb. 5, 2022) inside APEX in Las Vegas, a five-round showdown that could go a long way in determining a future title challenger. In fact, the division is expected to get a complete makeover on Feb. 12.

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That’s when Israel Adesanya battles Robert Whittaker in the UFC 271 headliner, not long after Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier hook ‘em up in the Houston co-main event. But most of the talk in front of UFC Vegas 47 has been centered on Strickland’s “I’m crazy! I don’t give a fuck! lololol I’m so unpredictable!” shtick.

Over the last couple of months, the 24-3 “Tarzan” shared fantasies about murdering a complete stranger and doing “weird shit” to another UFC fighter in the desert, while also threatening to beat up parents in front of their children. Yes, the promotion has its fair share of obnoxious attention seekers, but this is a far cry from posting movie spoilers or manufacturing cringe-worthy racial jokes.

No big deal? Try this one on for size:

“I think I told [Kevin Holland] I could rape him in prison one day and it bothered him. If we were in a jail cell together, if I wanted to, I could take that ass,” Strickland told MMA Junkie (transcribed by BJPenn.com). “He started talking shit to me on Instagram. I see him at the [Performance Institute] the other day and he popped out his fucking chest wanting to fight me. I told him we can’t fight here, Edgar wouldn’t allow it, we can go out to the parking lot right now.”

Remember the old days when UFC actually enforced its code of conduct?

I know there’s an audience for this style of promotion, because every time I criticize a fighter for going too far, I get inundated with angry tweets from the MMA Bro Squad. They’re all similar in tone, like “Okay snowflake” or “Go cover badminton and leave the fighting to real men,” and other macho crap like that.

Perhaps we’ve reached a point in the United States where this kind of behavior is deemed acceptable under the guise of competition. Or maybe we’re all just so jaded that something as stupid as Strickland’s latest soundbite — something about jerking off in his apartment — is small potatoes compared to real-world issues.

And that’s just it — MMA is bigger than the United States.

Getting commissioned in New York was seen as the last battle in the war for legalization and in many ways, the stateside MMA scene is the most important in the world. But at what cost? If your affinity for combat sports starts and ends with whatever UFC pay-per-view (PPV) is airing this month at Hooters; fine, I’m sure you don’t give a shit.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to shrug our shoulders when there is much more at stake.

“Our sport has always been controversial in the sense of that we actually are fighting with as few rules as we can have and still be safe,” Hermansson told MMA Fighting. “In Norway where I live, MMA is still illegal, which means that we can’t be fighting on our home turf and we are fighting for it to be legal.”

Strickland recently told the combat sports media that he wanted to kill someone inside the Octagon, certainly not a first for UFC. But when Frank Mir previously expressed a similar sentiment about Brock Lesnar in the buildup to their UFC 100 rematch, the promotion — desperate to win favor with unsanctioned territories — swooped in and forced Mir to apologize.

“I was disappointed by Frank Mir’s comments,” UFC President Dana White said in a prepared statement. “Frank’s been with the UFC a long time, he’s a two-time heavyweight champion and a commentator for the WEC. I think his emotions are running high right now, he has a big fight coming up next month and he’s still upset about his loss to Lesnar. He’s been talked to, he regrets what he said, and he won’t be saying anything like that again.”

What a difference a decade makes.

“When people in this sport are saying those kinds of things, it’s not actually helping our cause,” Hermansson continued. “I definitely wish that people were a little bit more careful with that kind of stuff. As long as I represent the sport in a good way, hopefully it will be fine. We just have to keep reminding people that most people are not like Sean. Hopefully, it’s just a thing that he puts into his character. Let’s hope so.”

If Strickland is using the “Controversy creates cash” approach to self branding then he owes it to the sport to be more responsible with his alter ego. But if the “Tarzan” we see in the media is the genuine article, then UFC has to weigh risk vs. reward in regards to its current investment, especially in an era where fighters are stabbing their family members, punching their girlfriends, and throwing themselves into traffic.

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