As quick with a quip as he is with his hands, Sean Strickland’s toughness shows in UFC return

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read

LAS VEGAS — Parts of Sean Strickland’s motorcycle were scattered across the road following an accident in which a van cut in front of him.

It was a gory scene, made even gorier by the fact that Strickland’s legs were badly damaged. When doctors first took a look at him, walking was the concern, not resuming a career fighting in the UFC.

To this day, his doctor has never cleared him to fight. His personality is such that he decided he was going to fight one way or another.

“I actually never heard a doctor outside of the UFC’s telling me I should ever fight again,” Strickland said, chuckling. “You know how it is. Even when I got my medical clearance, I didn’t tell ’em I had massive surgeries. I’m still missing a ton of s--- in my leg. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, when I was a kid, I got a bad cut,’ to tell them about the scar. Technically, I’ve never had a doctor tell me I should fight.”

Strickland missed two full years. His last bout before the accident was a second-round TKO of Nordine Taleb on Oct. 27, 2018. He returned at Apex on Halloween to defeat Jack Marshman by unanimous decision.

Strickland looked superb in the fight and was talking to Marshman throughout the bout. In the final round, it was as if Strickland was doing a stand-up routine while battering Marshman.

But to make up for lost time, he’ll be back on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+) when he meets Brendan Allen in a catchweight bout at UFC Vegas 14.

If history holds, Allen will get an earful from Strickland as they go at it at Apex. Strickland said he was training with boxers at Millennia MMA and they would trash talk him as they were sparring. That gave him the idea for it.

He just does it a bit better than the next guy.

“When I first started at Millennia MMA, there were these boxing guys, and they were just talking s--- as we were sparring,” Strickland said. “I’d never done that. I’d hit one of them and they’d go, ‘Oh, that doesn’t hurt,’ and start making fun of me. It was such a new thing to me that, hey dummy, you can actually talk when you spar. It’s fun. It makes it more interesting.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) Sean Strickland punches Jack Marshman of Wales in a middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 31, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(L-R) Sean Strickland punches Jack Marshman of Wales in a middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Apex on Oct. 31, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

He said fighting Marshman on Oct. 31 in front of no fans at Apex felt like sparring, which is why he began to talk. But as the fight progressed, he said his words were meant more respectfully than as trash talk.

He was pummeling Marshman, hitting him with a series of crisp, hard combinations, but Marshman kept taking them and moving forward.

“I was just shocked that he was taking those punches,” Strickland said of Marshman. “I hit Jack with punches that, if I hit guys in the gym with those, they’d have been down and in trouble. I was truly amazed at how tough he was and how he was able to take those.

“You remember me asking him, ‘How are you not going down?’ It wasn’t me talking s--- to him; it was me genuinely amazed at the toughness he showed to take those punches and keep moving forward.”

Strickland, whose striking is reminiscent in some ways of former middleweight champion Michael Bisping’s, has the chance to become a popular figure in the fight game if he remains successful.

His style is fan-friendly and he’s willing to take on anyone. In addition, he brings a little flair to the party with his banter, and having overcome a serious accident gives him a backstory that few can match.

He loves to fight and said that despite the injury, he never wanted to walk away. He said humans ought to be more like animals in that regard.

“You look in the animal world and you’ll see a wolf or a dog out there and take some catastrophic injury and they’re still out there fighting and doing it,” he said. “It’s all in the mind. Our intelligence breeds so much doubt in our heads and doubt isn’t good. But an animal, they just act on instinct and react. There’s some s--- you should take from that as a human being.”

If he beats Allen, who is working on a seven-fight winning streak, what the UFC brass and most fans will take from it is that Strickland is a budding star and worth keeping an eye on.

And if you don’t keep an eye on him, at least keep an ear open, because you’ll hear him for sure as he fights his way to victory.

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