If it seems like you’ve seen Colby Covington’s act before, you have. Covington’s mentor, former middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger Chael Sonnen, talked his way into one big-money main event after another by using pro wrestling schtick to paint himself as the bad guy, then laughing all the way to the bank.
Sonnen, however, always complemented his persona with a nudge and a wink. When you got him away from the spotlight and talked to him on a one-on-one basis, he’d offer some of the deepest and most astute insight into the the sport of mixed martial arts you’ll ever get out of an active fighter.
Covington’s updated version of Sonnen’s routine amps up the the wrestling heel act while providing none of the wit or charm which always lied just beneath the surface with Sonnen.
And that’s a shame, because the off-putting nature of Covington’s persona is keeping people from embracing a competitor who has plainly become one of the finest fighters in the entire sport.
Covington dismantled a previously red-hot Rafael dos Anjos on Sunday in the co-feature bout of UFC 225 at Chicago’s United Center. The former All-American wrestler at Oregon State used his endless gas tank, smothering wrestling and underrated standup game to keep the former lightweight champion from ever really getting on track.
That was enough to earn Covington a unanimous decision on scores of 49-46 and a pair of 48-47s, as well as a UFC interim welterweight title belt. He’s won six fights in a row, is 9-1 in the UFC and 14-1 overall.
But he’s done so with a gimmick portraying The Ugly American, as he’s taken potshots at the entire nation of Brazil, referring to their people as “filthy animals.” Covington nearly caused a riot with his anti-Brazilian sentiments in his victory over Demian Maia in Sao Paulo last year, then got into a scuffle in Australia with Brazilian heavyweight Fabricio Werdum which ended up with Werdum appearing in court and paying a fine on an assault charge.
The fans haven’t exactly rallied around Covington’s approach. As of Sunday afternoon, Covington had 39,300 Twitter followers. The man he beat, Dos Anjos, has 175,000. Out of the entire main card of UFC 225, only Australian heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, who was making his U.S. debut, and Mike Jackson, the 0-1 fighter brought in for an abysmal fight with former pro wrestler CM Punk, had fewer social media followers than Covington.
So it doesn’t exactly sound like Covington’s shtick will make him a superstar. Then again, this is 2018, so don’t rule anything out.
Keeping with his character, Covington proclaimed that he wants to meet President Trump, and the idea isn’t as outrageous as it sounds on the surface.
“I did everything I said I was going to do,” Covington said. “I told everybody I was going to make the welterweight division great again, and now I’m going to celebrate how a real American should celebrate winning a world title, and that’s going to the White House to see Mr. Donald Trump and put this on his desk, unlike the Filth-a-delphia Eagles disrespecting our flag and kneeling for the national anthem.”
(Note: No players on the Philadelphia Eagles knelt or remained in the locker room during the 2017 season or the playoffs.)
UFC president Dana White spoke on Trump’s behalf at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and says he can make a meeting between Covington and Trump happen.
“He wants to take the [belt to the White House]? Yeah, I can make that happen,” White said.
If that actually does happen — and given Trump’s obvious thirst for approval from even the lowest-regarded of celebrities, it very well could — then this could blow up into something the MMA world might not be ready to handle.
Covington might bring a belt to Washington, but Tyron Woodley is the rightful UFC welterweight champion. Covington is the beneficiary of the UFC’s propensity for handing out interim title belts like Halloween candy, and given Woodley fought four times in one year from the summer of 2016 through last summer, the notion of creating an interim belt when Woodley took some time off for shoulder surgery makes Covington’s title claim even more laughable than most interim belts.
If the political press catches wind of the MAGA-loving questionable champion getting a meeting with the president, and then going on to fight a rightful African-American titleholder from Ferguson, Missouri who is not afraid to speak his mind, then the bout has the potential to morph into a stand-in for all the fault lines currently being prodded in American society.
Woodley, for his part, seems eager to tackle this challenge head-on.
“[Expletive] Please! I let you bump your gums. Now you got smoke! I’m exposing you. You were and always will be my warm-up round!” Woodley tweeted.
A Woodley-Covington matchup is brimming with storylines even without the political overtones. The duo were teammates at the elite American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, but a rift developed when Covington started mouthing off about their training sessions.
That drama, not to mention the fact Woodley-Covington has the makings of a sensational chess match of a fight on sporting merits alone, should be enough to be a big sell.
But Covington has insisted on dragging everyone through the mud with his approach. So we better be ready to all get dirty in the process, whether or not it brings Covington the Sonnen-level bank account he seeks.
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