LAS VEGAS — The welterweight title hung in the balance as the bell sounded to open the final round of UFC 245 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
After four scintillating rounds, judge Derek Cleary had champion Kamaru Usman up three rounds to one. Sal D’Amato had it 3-1 for Colby Covington, the trash-talking challenger. And Eric Colon had it 2-2, which meant whichever fighter won the final round would leave as champion.
Covington came out hard and was controlling the early exchanges. The upshot was that the UFC was less than five minutes away from having a champion who is petty enough to provide spoilers for movies on social media. It was less than five minutes away from having a champion who was classless enough to mock a supposed close friend after his friend was hit by a train and in a fight for his life.
All of that, and the over-the-top support of President Donald Trump was all an act, as Covington admitted prior to the fight. He mocked people, demeaned and debased women, riled up folks for no other reason than to try to make himself a few extra bucks.
He was, he said over and over, the American Dream.
Usman, though, had other ideas. Usman roared back in the final several minutes to drop Covington and finish him at 4:10 in a Fight of the Night battle before 17,000 roaring fans.
“When you push hate and you push separation, love and unity does win sometimes,” Usman said afterward. “And tonight it won.”
Usman was born in Nigeria, but became an American citizen as a child. He argued at the post-fight news conference that it was he, and not Covington, who best represented the American Dream.
Say what you will about him, but nothing was given to Usman and he earned what he got through the sweat of his brow.
“They were chanting ‘USA!’ for me, let’s be honest,” Usman said of the crowd. “I’m more American than him. I am what it means to be an American. I’m an immigrant who came here and worked my ass off tirelessly to get to the top. I still prevailed, and that’s what it means to be an American.”
Usman said he’d had calls from people of all different ethnicities begging him to beat Covington. He hilariously imitated a Brazilian accent, a British accent and a Dominican Republic accent.
He knew, though, that he was in a dogfight. Covington came blazing out of the corner firing left hands and took the first round on all three cards, the only round of the four that was scored that all judges agreed upon.
Usman landed some harder shots, but Covington landed more and the ones he landed were clean.
“I said, ‘Oh, so he worked on his boxing. OK,’” Usman said.
Usman made a commitment early in the fight to get going to the body. It would pay dividends as early as the third round, as Covington’s pace noticeably slowed. He wasn’t able to go either as fast or as hard as he had early.
Covington suffered a non-displaced midline mandible fracture in the third round, but Covington never quit and did himself proud.
“I told everybody not to let all the bulls--- and stupid talk overshadow the fact this kid is tough and talented,” UFC president Dana White said.
Covington seemed on his way to the championship after pushing ahead early in the fifth round.
Before the fight, Usman had repeatedly vowed to pummel Covington for 4½ rounds before stopping him in the final half of the final round. And he nearly became Mystic Mac II by calling his shot. With about two minutes left, he began to visibly hurt Covington with his punches.
With around 90 seconds left, he blistered Covington on the chin with a straight right that was the beginning of the end.
“That’s not even my best punch,” Usman said. “It’s like my third-best punch.”
It was enough to do the job. Covington got up only to be knocked down quickly again. Usman pounced and forced referee Marc Goddard to stop it.
That didn’t sit well with Covington, who blasted Goddard on social media after the bout.
“I go in there to kill or be killed,” Covington wrote on Twitter. “You robbed me of that. You robbed the people of a fair fight. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
White called the idea that the fight was stopped early “ridiculous,” and Usman was incredulous when he heard the suggestion it was too early. There was no way Covington was going to make it to the finish, not as compromised as he was and with Usman all over him.
And had it somehow made it to the finish, the Usman rally would have won him the round.
The rant, though, allowed Covington to continue to play the heel and attempt to save face.
The sad thing is, he didn’t need to do that. He earned the respect of every fight fan with the way he fought, giving everything he had in pursuit of victory.
It was almost, but not quite, enough.
Usman put him away, but something tells me we haven’t heard the last of Colby Covington just yet.
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