July 22nd, 2024

UFC president Dana White no stranger to his fighters speaking out

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 19, 2024.

Dana White attends a CFL game in Edmonton on Thursday July 25, 2019. White knows middleweight champion Sean (Tarzan) Strickland’s shoot-from-the-lip approach to life elicits a wide range of emotions. But White notes that given Strickland is in the fight business, his critics can watch him get punched in the head. For whatever reason, Strickland's presence has helped make the UFC's first fight in Toronto since December 2018 a rousing success. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

TORONTO – UFC president Dana White has had more than a few challenging personalities on his roster over the years. UFC middleweight champion Sean (Tarzan) Strickland may take the cake.

“Sean Strickland is, without a doubt, one of the nuttiest dudes we’ve ever dealt with,” White said, offering the assessment without passing judgment.

The UFC boss is renowned for micromanaging. But that does not extend to Strickland.

“I don’t know if you manage Sean Strickland, you just go (with it),” White said in an interview. “You know me. I’m a big believer in freedom of speech so you can’t pick and choose who said what you like and what you don’t like. I don’t agree with 95 per cent of the stuff the guy says.”

White pointed to the wide range of characters and causes they espouse he has had under him, citing the polar-opposite Tyron (The Chosen One) Woodley and Colby (Chaos) Covington as past examples.

“We had a time when you had Woodley coming out with Black Lives Matter all over him – hats, shirts. You had a guy like Colby Covington who’s the complete opposite (as a die-hard Donald Trump supporter). You have all these different personalities who have their own beliefs and ideas. It goes on and on. I could sit here for 25 minutes and talk about it.”

Strickland’s shoot-from-the-lip approach was evident in a 25-minute media availability Wednesday when he offered his views on a wide range of topics from homosexuality to women’s MMA and Justin Trudeau – he’s not a fan — sometimes at the behest of a question and sometimes in a stream-of-consciousness riff.

His signature “A woman in every kitchen, a gun In every hand” T-shirt seems designed to trigger reaction, albeit from someone who notes on the UFC 297 “Countdown” show “Every man needs a Glock.”

White believes his fighters and the media that regularly covers the sport are used to such diverse opinions/outbursts.

“We had two openly gay women who are in the (UFC 297) co-main event that he said lots of things about. One of them sat right next to him (Thursday) and couldn’t give a (hoot) about what Sean Strickland says or what he thinks or what his opinions are – on anything.”

Brazil’s Mayra (Sheetara) Bueno Silva — who was the one sitting next to Strickland — and American Raquel (Rocky) Pennington face off Saturday for the vacant women’s bantamweight title.

Asked what she might say to Strickland if their paths cross, Bueno Silva said: “I love you, Sean. He’s very funny.”

Strickland has managed to entertain and offend in the buildup to Saturday’s UFC 297 showdown with South African challenger Dricus (Stillknocks) Du Plessis in Toronto – a city and a country he did not want to visit.

Asked where he wants to fight next, Strickland replied: “Maybe a country with freedom of speech “¦ America, Vegas, bro. Anywhere in America.”

In typical Strickland fashion, he managed to insert five F-bombs in the sentiment.

But Strickland sells on both sides of the border, it seems. The champion was wildly cheered at Thursday’s news conference while Du Plessis, his charismatic well-mannered opponent, was roundly booed.

Like Strickland, the news conference was loud and raucous.

“Probably the best press conference we’ve had in a very long time.” White said.

Strickland’s larger-than-life presence has helped make the UFC’s first show in Toronto since UFC 231 in December 2018 a rousing success.

On Thursday, White reported the Scotiabank Arena card will be a sellout of 18,100 with an expected gate of US$76 million. Of the UFC previous 32 Canadian shows, only UFC 129 had a higher gate (US$12.1 million) and that’s because it took place at Toronto’s Rogers Centre with an announced crowd of 55,724.

International pay-per-view sales of this Toronto card were trending 32 per cent ahead of what was expected, White said.

“Love Strickland. Hate Strickland. If you love Strickland you probably want to see if he’s going to beat Du Plessis. If you hate him, you’re probably tuning in to watch him get punched in the mouth,” White said.

The 54-year-old UFC boss is busier than ever these days, with shows like “Dana White’s Contender Series” and “Lookin’ for a Fight,” not to mention the Power Slap promotion in addition to the UFC. And yet he looks healthier than ever, full of beans with a beaming smile.

“I feel like a million bucks,” he said enthusiastically. “I swear to God, I feel like I’m in my 20s again. It’s insane “¦ I don’t know if I’ve ever more fun than I’m having right now, to be honest with you.”

A workaholic, he nevertheless acknowledged taking time off over the holidays.

“We went to a beach, I watched my kids surf. Yeah, it was good. But by Day 4 or 5, I’m like ‘Enough of this “¦ I’m ready to get home and get back to work.'”

He is looking forward to UFC 300, the return of Jon (Bones) Jones and (The Notorious) Conor McGregor, opening the promotion’s new performance institute in Mexico City and putting on a September show at the Sphere in Las Vegas “which is going to be the greatest live sporting event that has been held in the history of sporting events.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

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