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Newly crowned UFC champ Pennington shoots back at Strickland

Raquel Pennington Raquel Pennington - The Canadian Press

Newly crowned UFC bantamweight champion Raquel (Rocky) Pennington shot back at former middleweight title-holder Sean Strickland on Wednesday for sexist, demeaning comments at UFC 297 in Toronto.

Strickland managed to offend with his take on everything from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the gay and lesbian community. He also dismissed women's mixed martial arts on several occasions.

"People are always going to talk. They're always going to have their opinions," Pennington told the MMA Hour on Wednesday when asked about Strickland's words fight week. "You're allowed to have your own opinion. But at the end of the day you're not going to affect my life. 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. 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."

Pennington, who is married to UFC strawweight Tecia (The Tiny Tornado) Torres, was one half of an openly gay UFC 297 co-main event Jan. 20. She won a unanimous decision over Brazil's Mayra (Sheetara) Bueno Silva at Scotiabank Arena to claim the vacant women's 135-pound title.

Bueno Silva had her girlfriend, former UFC fighter Gloria de Paula, in her corner fight night.

Strickland, who lost his title to South African challenger Dricus (Stillknocks) Du Plessis in the main event in Toronto.

Asked at the post-fight news conference whether Strickland should have been reined in during fight week, UFC president Dana White was adamant.

"I don't tell any other human being what to say, what to think and there's no leashes on any of them (UFC fighters)," he said with an F-bomb.

"Free speech, brother," he added. "People can say whatever they want and they can believe whatever they want."

Pennington said White and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell spoke to her ahead of the pre-fight news conference, which was one day after media day, asking "how I was doing with everything."

"I respect Dana and Hunter for giving their concern. I also respect the fact that they do give freedom of speech and they give their athletes a platform to be who they are," she told the MMA Hour.

"He (Dana) does care about his athletes. He is there and he did check in on us to make sure things were OK."

She said she and Strickland did not talk fight week, saying focusing on him would only have "a negative impact for me."

"Every time he came around, we both turned the other direction," Pennington said. "I stared at him a couple times and he just turned the other direction.

"He's out there. He's a great athlete. He's selling his fights. He's running his mouth. He's being freedom of speech, doing whatever. But no. He didn't say anything (to me).

"An interesting character," she concluded.

Montreal-born host Ariel Helwani called Strickland's comments "a massive step back" for MMA.

"I absolutely agree with you," said the 35-year-old Pennington, who fights out of Colorado Springs.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2024