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Michael Bisping's Tired Homophobia Just the Latest in MMA's Culture Problem

Sydnie Jones@syd1138Featured ColumnistJune 6, 2016

Michael Bisping, our new middleweight champion.
Michael Bisping, our new middleweight champion.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

(Warning: Many of the links below contain NSFW language and/or audio.)

At UFC 199, long-time UFC veteran Michael Bisping ended Luke Rockhold's brief tenure as middleweight champion with a knockout in the first round. Viewers watched as Bisping, at 37 and 12 years into his MMA career, realized his dream of becoming the UFC middleweight champion. To know the English fighter had toiled for so long, in such a grueling sport, and achieved a feat most assumed was beyond his grasp was a touching scene.

You'd think after so many years in the public eye, and so many missteps, Bisping would be more practiced at making sure he doesn't say stupid things in front of cameras. Or, at least, making sure he doesn't use slurs and gender-related insults in front of cameras:

Bisping and Rockhold still going at it after the post fight press conference. pic.twitter.com/Ojiiwlo9O1

— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 5, 2016

Apparently, he's not practiced enough. Shortly after his win Sunday night, he got into a verbal spar during the postfight press conference with the fighter he'd just punched unconscious and dethroned. In less than 30 seconds, Bisping called Rockhold a c--ksucker, a p---y and a f----t. He's not unaware those slurs don't go over well; after he used that last one, he said with a chuckle, "S--t, I shouldn't have said that."

Rockhold—despite recovering from the knockout, losing the fight and losing the belt—somehow managed to avoid resorting to insults that further marginalize oppressed populations. Maybe Rockhold is more media savvy than Bisping. Maybe he cares more about homophobia and sexism and consciously chose not to. Maybe both!

As we don't know why Rockhold was able to trash-talk Bisping without using the crutch of sophomoric barbs trumpeting outmoded notions of masculinity, we also don't know why Bisping wasn't. Maybe he's homophobic. Maybe he just uses the language out of habit, the result of years steeped in a culture that didn't care.

It doesn't really matter. It also wasn't the first time. He called Jorge Rivera a "f----t motherf--cker" in a 2011 UFC promotional video (h/t the Guardian). More recently, he called former champion Anderson Silva a "p---y" at UFC Fight Night 84 weigh-ins in February. On June 1, he told the media half the UFC roster are "p-----s." In 2014, while appearing on The MMA Hour, he berated UFC fighter Tim Kennedy for "dressing like a woman and acting like a queer."

Bisping is only the latest of several big-name and/or relevant fighters to employ this rhetoric in taunting opponents.

Featherweight champion Conor McGregor has insulted Jose Aldo several times by saying he has a vagina—in this clip from the UFC 196 pre-fight press conference, he also claimed Frankie Edgar and Rafael dos Anjos have vaginas—and, during an appearance on Conan, that he visits the gynecologist. He called Aldo and dos Anjos each "a p---y" in a Facebook post.

Former champion Luke Rockhold after his KO loss.
Former champion Luke Rockhold after his KO loss.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Frankie Edgar responded in kind on Twitter, challenging McGregor and saying, "Now let's see who has a vagina."

Former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum posted a photoshopped image on Instagram with a caption intended as McGregor's words: "Please Werdum :: Go slow :: easy you are a heavyweight !!! Wow !!! Now I love you more than #DanaWhite . now I know why #vaicavalo."

Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones routinely uses "p---y" to insult his opponents; his most infamous usage occurred in an off-air exchange with Daniel Cormier on ESPN. During UFC 178 media day, he also said he would "make [Cormier] his wife," an instance I examined further here.

Alistair Overeem, per MMAjunkie's Mike Bohn, said that Anthony Johnson's behavior was "p---y." Johnson responded in typical fashion on Twitter.

Penalizing fighters for this language is an exception rather than the rule. That's unsurprising, considering the UFC's employees readily use it as well.

UFC President Dana White has said plenty, including calling former Sherdog reporter Loretta Hunt a "f--king b---h" (h/t ESPN.com) and mocking Cris "Cyborg" Justino's appearance at a press conference, comparing her to Wanderlei Silva. Commentator Joe Rogan also has an extensive history of thoughtless language. Most recently, he attempted a joke on his podcast about Cyborg's sex in which he said comedian Tony Hinchcliffe could talk about "her d--k" in a roast.

This is just a handful of examples, most of them fairly recent. I could continue.

It's 2016. There's no excuse for using words like "c--ksucker," "p---y" and "f----t." There are only explanations. Indifference. Homophobia. Sexism. Ignorance. Take your pick.

No matter the explanation, this kind of language brings an undeniable embarrassment to the sport. There's a reason news outlets like the Guardian, Yahoo and the New York Daily News are running the story of a champion at the highest level of the sport calling the man he just beat a "f----t."

It's not because the media is out to damage the UFC or the perception of the sport. MMA culture, vacillating between indifference and lip service, has that well in hand.