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Combat sports battles homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ abuses following Michael Bisping’s comments at UFC 298

Outspoken, unfiltered and utterly captivating.

Fighters, unlike most other athletes, encapsulate both the authenticity and drama of entertainment.

This is how they attract new fans to their sport. It is, in the digital age, a method commonly used to establish their flamboyant presence on social media, with clicks, views and likes translating to ticket sales and pay-per-view buys.

But, most importantly, the microphone gives someone a voice. Fighters can use this to their advantage, by building their profile to a point where they become a household name which, for the most part, will portray them as either an inspirational or controversial figure.

Or, they can take the opportunity to advocate for an underrepresented community and, in turn, capture the hearts and minds of those who, otherwise, would be totally uninterested in their performances inside the ring or octagon.

Regardless, their position on the table at a press conference, or after a fight, when they are ambushed by a camera for an interview, does hold a great deal of responsibility.

This is something that became abundantly clear when Michael Bisping – former UFC middleweight champion – uttered a homophobic comment on the ESPN broadcast of UFC 298.

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Following Ilia Topuria’s second-round stoppage win over Alexander Volkanovski, which headlined the MMA card on February 17 in Anaheim, California, Bisping, praising the featherweight, said: “What a guy, what a night.”

Then, the UFC Hall of Famer, not realising that he was still live on air, followed up his remark by adding: “What a guy – that’s f***ing gay.”

As of now, there has been no apology from Bisping or ESPN, and UFC president Dana White has seemingly maintained his stance on preserving free speech at all costs.

He declared that he will not tell another human being what they can and cannot say, after former UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland attacked the LGBTQ+ community with an unsavoury rant at the press conference ahead of his title fight against Dricus du Plussie, which headlined UFC 297 last month.

While it is pointless attempting to defend comments that are, quite frankly, indefensible, the media coverage at UFC 298 does highlight a major issue in combat sports.

It is worth mentioning that, during this month, Football v Homophobia celebrate those who are actively standing against anti-LGBTQ+ abuse and discrimination towards players. They host an award ceremony at the National Football Museum in Manchester on February 23, which will see a coming together of clubs, individuals and various organisations campaigning for inclusivity.

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The reality is that combat sports could do a lot more to improve their approach towards such issues – especially homophobia.

In May 2022, the World Boxing Council announced that, as an LGBTQ+ ally, it will be supporting the World Gay Boxing Championships. The world’s first boxing championships for the LGBTQ+ community and allies was then held in February 2023, and took place in Sydney, Australia.

With the second Championships set for June 20 this year, there is an opportunity now, in boxing, to address a long-standing problem with homophobia.

A recent instance that exemplified the issue came during a press conference with Chris Eubank Jr and Liam Smith ahead of their first fight in January 2023.

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After making anti-LGBTQ+ comments amid verbal exchanges with his opponent, Smith said: “I fully regret how that press conference went and what got said should never have been said, and again I apologise to anyone I offended.”

This followed a statement issued by Sky Sports, apologising for the discriminatory language used during the broadcast – something that ESPN, in the interest of progressing combat sports, could also consider doing.

Despite Smith’s sincere apology, he was fined by the British Boxing Board of Control. Additionally, during the weigh-in for their fight, Eubank Jr displayed his support for the LGBTQ+ community by wearing a rainbow armband, affirming that he is an ally.

In order for combat sports to collectively move forward, by demonstrating its solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, more fighters need to show a willingness to become allies.

A simple, but powerful move, that will not only help to increase inclusivity among an underrepresented community in combat sports, but also spread awareness of a critical issue that still exists.

So, contrary to what some may think, change does not have to involve the suppression of characters, nor does it aim to bring about any radical movements. Instead, while allowing fighters to, within reason, express themselves in front of the world’s media, there must also be more consideration for the ramifications of discriminatory comments.

This, with any luck, may even inspire a new wave of advocacy, with fighters campaigning against discrimination, just as plenty of athletes such as, perhaps most famously, ‘The Greatest’ – Muhammad Ali – did, throughout history.




  • Oscar Pick

    I cover stories in boxing, football, rugby, snooker and MMA. Wishing to ensure greater transparency, through accurate reporting and engaging interviews, my articles allow readers to gain an informed insight into different aspects of sport.