Las Vegas, NV — The burning question heading into Thursday’s UFC 276 press conference was this: what would Sean Strickland have to say?
It wasn’t about Israel Adesanya, the UFC’s middleweight champion and one of their biggest modern-day stars. Nor about Jared Cannonier, who at 38 was essentially called cannon fodder by one journalist at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Certainly not about Bryan Barberena, who was barely an afterthought until the oversized persona that is The Schmo decided to throw him a bone and ask him about his fight with Robbie Lawler.
No, it was the Strickland Show on Thursday, more so than the Stylebender or Sugar Show.
“The UFC was on top of me right from the start,” Strickland replied while fielding his first question of the night, essentially asked if the promotion had tried to reign him in. A moment later, he was addressing the crowd.
“This is my first press conference. You guys are a bunch of vicious bastards. I hear the way you guys talk, I want to go down there and punch all you f*ckers in the face. Jesus Christ you guys are mean,” Strickland fired at the masses.
Turns out, he was just getting warmed up. Singling out individual fans, Strickland pulled no punches. “I’m probably the only guy that shouldn’t be here,” he said at one point.
He turned his ire on America itself, and what he clearly sees as an effort to muzzle him.
“I can shut up and not say the F-word. And by the way America, let me ask you one thing right now: I can turn on T.V. and watch a dude get f*cking get popped in the head, but I can’t say the F-word? Y’all need to fix yourself. C’mon now. Fix yourself.”
Turns out, he can’t actually shut up and not say the F-word. But that’s not really the point. Strickland’s main target on Thursday was Israel Adesanya, and if the temperature of that potential match-up was lukewarm prior to the presser, it became red-hot during it.
The first shot fired by Strickland towards the champ nearly flew under the radar. “After we get in another war and I beat Alex [Pereira], you’re gonna see I’m a whole different guy. I’m gonna start painting my nails, acting like a female. I’m gonna be wearing sunglasses inside,” Strickland exclaimed, a clear dig at Adesanya’s look this Fight Week. “It’s gonna be different, bro. I’m gonna get me suits, I’m gonna get a nice car. I’m gonna trade in my 2018 Nissan Frontier, get me a Porsche. Just f*cking wait! I’m gonna leave all you guys behind. I’m gonna be the best champ you’ve ever seen. Let’s go!”
That was the appetizer. Things erupted when Strickland was asked by Cageside Press who the most dangerous striker on the stage was.
“I would say me, but that man [Pereira] was the one that slept that man [Adesanya]. Next to me, probably Alex. What was he like, 2-0 against Izzy?” Then, turning to the champ: “Izzy what was it, 2-0?”
Strickland drawing him into the line of fire did not sit well with Adesanya, who responded by telling the American to “watch the full fight next time.”
“Oh man I made a champion mad with his frosted tips and his g*y little watch,” Strickland retorted. Political correctness, out the window. If Strickland had indeed been warned to clean up his act, all that was forgotten now. “Oh no! I’m just joking. Izzy is a savage bro,” Strickland said, switching modes.
When Adesanya alleged that he had smacked Strickland on the ass “like my b*tch” backstage, Strickland shot back at him “No man that beats off to cartoons is gonna beat me! Calm down! Calm down!”
Adesanya threatening to do a victory dance on TikTok over a KO’d Strickland should they fight? “Grown-ass man on f*cking TikTok. Maybe that’s the problem bro,” Strickland responded. “You don’t want this guy as a champion. You don’t want this guy as a champion.”
At one point, the two suggested having a go at it, without either really making the attempt. Strickland then lashed out again. “Listen bro, you’re going to break a f*cking nail. Calm down. Calm the f*ck down.”
Then, nice-guy Strickland again. “No, no Izzy, he’s a solid guy, he’s a solid guy. I don’t judge his cartoon porn addiction. I’m not gonna be that guy. I don’t judge his TikTok.” That had Adesanya protesting. “It’s called Hentai,” corrected the champ.
“It’s called Hentai! I’m a grown-ass man, I’m not watching cartoons,” quipped Strickland. “Calm down.”
One line, however, did seem to silence the champ. “Hey Izzy why don’t you tell me what not to do. Tell me what not to do, Izzy. What should I do, take a f*cking nap?”
Mission accomplished. No fighter likes to be confronted with their failures, no matter how successful they’ve been since. Strickland, on the surface, appears to be under the champ’s skin. He took the low road, no question about it. Now, the question becomes whether he can land the fight.
Soooo did Sean Strickland steal the show?
— Alex Behunin (@AlexBehunin) June 30, 2022
There have been plenty of fighters with the gift of gab in years gone by. Chael Sonnen. Conor McGregor. These days, Bellator motormouth Danny Sabatello might just be carrying that torch. Sean Strickland isn’t one of those. He’s not a rapid-fire quote machine, though he occasionally gets a good one out. He’s probably not even among the top 10 trash talkers in the UFC. He just has a screw loose, maybe, and no filter, definitely.
But the common denominator between them all has been winning. Sonnen won more than he lost, and made it to the big fights. McGregor walked the walk as well as talking the talk, winning two titles. Sabatello is on his way in the Bellator bantamweight grand prix.
Even if he’s not the best talker out there, even if the allure of Sean Strickland is more about what shocking thing he might say next, how far he might push the line, than how he says it, the middleweight has won as well. Six times in a row now.
If he wins again Saturday at UFC 276 against Alex Pereira, he may just land the fight with “The Last Stylebander.” In which case, expect to hear a lot more of this craziness. Probably turned up to 11.