UFC CEO Dana White defends Sean Strickland after homophobic rant: ‘Free speech, brother’

A bald man in a UFC ring speaks into a microphone during an arena fight.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) CEO and president Dana White has defended Sean Strickland and his right to free speech after the fighter faced backlash for his homophobic and transphobic comments.

In the build-up to his fight against Dricus Du Plessis on Saturday (20 January), which he ultimately lost, Strickland sparked controversy when he launched into an anti-LGBTQ+ rampage.

Following calls for Strickland to face some sort of punishment for his homophobic and transphobic comments, the UFC’s president Dana White made it clear he has no such plans.

Sean Strickland punches Uriah Hall of Jamaica
Sean Strickland lost his middleweight champion title to opponent Dricus De Plessis this weekend. (Zuffa LLC via Getty/ Chris Unger)

While White made it clear he neither condoned nor denounced Strickland’s comments, he told press that he had no interest in policing fighter’s beliefs.

“I don’t f***ing tell any other human being what to say, what to think, and there’s no lesashes on any of them,” he said at Saturday’s UFC 297 fight.

“That’s ridiculous to say I give somebody a leash. Free speech, brother. People can say whatever they want. They can believe whatever they want.”

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Strickland had come under fire after he was asked by Canadian journalist Alexander Lee to address a homophobic comment he made in 2021, in which he had suggested that if he had a gay son, he would believe he had “failed as a man.”

When answering Lee’s question, Strickland directly targetted the reporter, Canada, and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau.

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Dana White
Dana White has said he has not plans to restrict Sean Strickland’s free speech after the fighter’s homophobic rant. (Getty Images)

After asking Lee whether or not he was gay, or if he had voted for Trudeau, Strickland called the reporter a “weak f***ing man” and went on an unrelated tangent about Trudeau, who is a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

That’s despite Strickland hailing from California, a state which is more accepting and supportive of LGBTQ+ identities than most.

Last year alone, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed a raft of protections for the LGBTQ+ community and passed a law to prevent LGBTQ+ books from being removed from classrooms, while California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta ceaselessly challenged school districts who toyed with introducing policies to out trans students to their parents.

It also became the first US state to officially recognise Transgender History Month, which will be observed for the first time in August 2024.

Strickland later added in his tangent that “everything that is wrong with the world” is down to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. He also claimed that he would be “kicked off” Instagram if he shared his true views about transgender people.

In a statement following Strickland’s tangent, Lee said that, while the mixed martial artist’s comments were shocking, he was not surprised to hear them.

“I come from a city that has a very strong LGBTQ+ community,” said the reporter. “I’ve never been comfortable with a lot of fighters’ stances on LGBTQ+ issues, and he’s been worse than most.

“I felt it was my responsibility… to ask these questions.”

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