In the understatement of this or any other year, Raquel Pennington has described her fellow UFC 297 main card fighter Sean Strickland as an “interesting character” in a new interview with The MMA Hour.
That is, of course, a diplomatic way of saying someone has a screw loose. It’s Strickland’s unhinged homophobia that is making him notorious beyond the octagon.
There’s plenty more from Pennington in a conversation that comes 10 days after the Toronto event that saw her claim title honors before Strickland was dethroned by Dricus du Plessis.
You’ll know by now that in a pre-fight media conference, Strickland — sometimes seen wearing and selling a T-shirt with the slogan “A woman in every kitchen, a gun in every hand” — attempted to verbally humiliate a Canadian journalist from MMA Fighting, who asked about the fighter’s previous statements that if he ever had a son who was gay, he would reject him.
Pennington, who has a child with her wife Tecia, told host Ariel Helwani that she had to shut herself off from Strickland’s stupidity but admits she found what he said appalling.
“You’re allowed to have your own opinion, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to affect my life,” she said.
“What you do with your life doesn’t affect me. I just think it was disgusting on his part to even be concerned about us as human beings and our lifestyle, and just the comments he was making.”
During the MMA Hour interview, Pennington wore a hat with her initials in rainbow colors.
She continued: “At the end of the day, MMA has grown a ton. The women are here. We’re here to stay. The divisions are growing. You have tons of up-and-coming talent, so to criticize female athletes, I don’t agree with any of that.
“But I can’t control that, and that wasn’t my focus. My focus was to go out there and accomplish my goal.”
She went on to do just that, defeating fellow out LGBTQ fighter Mayra Bueno Silva by unanimous decision.
However, there were still moments in Toronto when she found herself in the same space as Strickland. Pennington says he wouldn’t meet her gaze and had nothing to say.
“Every time he came around, we both turned the other direction,” she added.
“I stared at him a couple times, and he would just turn the other direction.
“He’s out there, he’s a great athlete, he’s selling his fights, running his mouth, he’s being — freedom of speech, doing whatever — but no, he didn’t say anything. Interesting character.”
Helwani suggested he might make the differentiation between free speech and hate speech.
“Yeah, we could say that too,” she conceded.
After the event, UFC president Dana White did indeed try to shrug off what Strickland had said in the official press conference as “free speech” and wouldn’t address the avalanche of homophobic abuse that his fighter had started online.
White also appeared to use Pennington and Silva as some sort of shield, telling a reporter: “We had two gay women who fought in the co-main event. They sat on the stage with Sean Strickland.
“They could give a sh*t what Sean Strickland thinks or what he says or what his beliefs are or what his opinions are.”
However, Pennington told the MMA Hour that White and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell did check in on her over the situation, which she appreciated.
“I respect Dana and Hunter for giving their concern. I also respect the fact that they give freedom of speech and they give their athletes the platform to be who they are and they just don’t care,” she explained.
“A lot of people are constantly criticizing things and attacking Dana and saying different things but he does care about his athletes. He is there, and he did check in on us to make sure things were OK.
“He was like, ‘I have your back with this situation,’ too. But for me, it’s just one of those things where if I was to focus on it, it was only going to have a negative impact for me.”
The fact that the MMA world is still talking about this shows the incident was way off even the “free speech” scale that is so sacrosanct to White.
No one could blame Pennington for wanting to put it out of her mind amid the intensity of the pre-fight build-up.
But what sums it all up is Strickland’s behavior. Having being openly discriminatory against gay people when he had the power of the platform, he couldn’t look a gay fighter in the eye when they were one on one.
Further proof that bullies are just big cowards.