LAS VEGAS — On the night the UFC inducted some of its greatest stars from the past into its Hall of Fame, several future Hall of Famers gathered on a stage in front of a rowdy crowd at T-Mobile Arena for the final news conference before UFC 276.
Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, former featherweight champion Max Holloway and welterweight Robbie Lawler seem all locks for the UFC Hall of Fame one day in the not too distant future.
On Thursday, though, it was some of the emerging stars who stole the show at the final news conference.
Egged on by the crowd, the 10 fighters on stage went back and forth at each other with verbal jabs, but the easy winners of those exchanges were middleweight contender Sean Strickland and bantamweight contender “Suga” Sean O’Malley.
O’Malley, who fights Pedro Munhoz on Saturday, had his long, curly hair died pink. He wore a white blazer with no shirt and matching slacks, winning an unofficial best dressed award.
It was a day for no shirts. Bryan Barbarena, who fights Lawler, had his hair cut into a Mohawk while wearing denim overalls with no shirt. He resembled 1980s WWE star Hillbilly Jim.
Holloway, who was uncharacteristically aggressive, got rid of his T-shirt for his post-news conference staredown with Volkanovski.
But it was Strickland who really got the crowd energized. Strickland will fight Alex Pereira with the winner likely next for the middleweight title winner.
Strickland has been on a roll since moving to middleweight from welterweight, but he’s become known more for his vulgar rants and wish to kill someone in the Octagon than he has for anything else.
He was asked if he’d been warned to tone down the vulgarity and in particular, limit the use of the F-bombs.
“The UFC was on top of me right from the start,” said Strickland, who was appearing on his first pay-per-view news conference.
He then stood out of his seat and said he wanted to say something. He began to talk directly to the crowd and taunted one specific fan.
“You guys are a bunch of vicious bastards,” Strickland said. “I hear the way you guys talk. I want to go down there and punch all you f****** in the face. Jesus Christ, you guys are mean.”
That set the tone for the roughly 40-minute affair. There was little discussion of the fights themselves. Strickland focused much of his attack on Adesanya, pointing out he’d been knocked out in a kickboxing match by Pereira.
Holloway went hard at Volkanovski and said at one point, “All week, I heard you guys talking about damage. We’re talking about damage here. All you guys, it was, ‘Damage this and damage that.’ I’m known for taking damage and he’s known for not giving it. So let’s get it.”
The crowd was clearly favoring Holloway and roared at that line. Volkanovski said, ‘That’s why you can’t spar any more, you get hit too much,” but he was drowned out by boos. Holloway yelled to the crowd, “Ninth Island, I can’t hear you. Let him have it. Let him have it!”
It was that kind of a night. Strickland was asked about a potential fight next with Adesanya, but he parried it as so many fighters do and said he was focused on Pereira.
He said it, though, in a way that only he could and got the crowd to erupt. He also took shots at several others on the stage.
“Alex is a big, scary f****** Brazilian,” Strickland said. “I think we can all admit that. If you’re at an ATM and this motherf***** walks up behind you, you can’t tell me you’re not walking away. But he’s a tough dude. I’ve trained with plenty of good kickboxers and I think I can handle it. After we go to war and I beat Alex, you’ll see I’m a whole different guy.
“I’m going to start painting my nails, acting like a female, and I’ll start wearing sunglasses inside. It’ll be different. I’m going to get me suits. I’m going to get a nice car and I’m going to trade in my 2018 Nissan Frontier and get me a Porsche. Just you wait. I’m going to leave all you guys behind.”
As he lashed out at Adesanya later, he sneered and said to the champion, “Careful. You might break a nail.”
It was that kind of a day and even some of the so-called journalists on hand got into the act.
Volkanovski, though, had it right as he spoke even though few heard him over the crescendo of boos from the crowd.
“All the booing and everything is all good, but on Saturday night, they’re going to close that door and then none of this will matter,” he said. “It’s just going to be me and him and then we’ll see.”