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Sean Strickland on UFC’s opinion of him as a champion: ‘They hate it, but they also accept it’

Sean Strickland and the UFC are a great match. Strickland’s ability to offend people often resonates with a vocal group of MMA fans. UFC president Dana White’s love of free speech protects Strickland from penalties or punishments. Despite their functional relationship, the former UFC middleweight champion says the promotion would prefer if he weren’t in the title picture.

“Would it be easier for them if I wasn’t a champion? Yes,” Strickland told CBS Sports. “But does that mean they are not pro-speech? No.”

Strickland has run the gauntlet of offensive remarks. He’s been criticized for statements deemed homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. That hasn’t stopped UFC from inviting Strickland to media days, press conferences and interview opportunities, particularly during his four-month reign as middleweight champion.

“I don’t give anyone a leash,” White told reporters at a UFC 297 press conference in January. “A leash? Free speech. Control what people say? You’re going to tell people what to believe? I don’t f—ing tell any other human being what to say, what to think. There are no leashes on anyone. It’s ridiculous to say that I give somebody a leash. Free speech, brother. People can say whatever they want and believe whatever they want.”

Strickland wasn’t granted an immediate rematch against Dricus du Plessis despite losing a disputable split decision at UFC 297. There are a variety of theories for why. Meritocratically, Strickland didn’t manage a single successful title defense. Financially, a blood feud between du Plessis and Israel Adesanya could be more profitable. It’s also possible that UFC doesn’t want Strickland as one of the faces of the company.

Check out the full interview with Sean Strickland below.

“There’s nothing wrong with them saying, ‘Hey, you know what… I don’t necessarily think Sean is the best look for our sponsors.’ There’s nothing wrong with that,” Strickland said. “In all fairness, they have me fight and they put me in press conferences. They haven’t hindered me. It’s a double-edged sword. They hate it but they also accept it.

“If you had a f—ing business and every time you had somebody representing your business, he opens his mouth up and you need to go talk to a f–ing company that just gave you $100 million and say, ‘Sorry, man. He’s a f—ing asshole.”

Strickland meets Paulo Costa in a five-round co-main event at UFC 302 in Newark, New Jersey on Saturday. The winner takes a meaningful step towards a middleweight title shot but likely sits behind Adesanya and the winner of Robert Whittaker vs. Khamzat Chimaev in the pecking order.

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