Inside the Controversial Persona of Colby Covington Ahead of UFC 245

On the verge of being cut by the UFC, Colby Covington made a decision to be more than just a top fighter. Now, the persona he developed has pushed the 31-year-old to the most meaningful fight of his life.
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Colby Covington fights Kamaru Usman for his UFC Welterweight Championship this Saturday at UFC 245. While it’s highly unlikely that this will be the most exciting fight on a stacked card, it is the main event of UFC 245 for a specific reason: people want to see Covington lose.

“I enjoy the hate, I enjoy the boos… I’d rather have hate than love,” says Convinton. “When people say you’re unbeatable and you’re the greatest, that gives you a false sense of security.

“On Saturday night, there are going to be safe spaces installed in T-Mobile [Arena] so people have places to cry.”

The 31-year-old Covington is on the precipice of the most meaningful fight of his life. A former Interim UFC Welterweight champ, this Saturday represents the opportunity to prove that he is the absolutely best, most dominant welterweight in the world. A title win over Usman (15-1) would be a tribute to his relentless pursuit of greatness in the cage, a place where Covington (12-1) has only lost once in a fight over three years ago.

But dominance wasn't always something Covington relished in.

In October of 2017, on the verge of getting cut by the UFC, Covington made a decision: he needed to be more than just a top fighter. But how? Covington’s wrestling style was never overly flashy—Saturday’s fight will lack the explosiveness that fans will see from Max Holloway or Amanda Nunes—and his overall technique is not very exciting. His approach is similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov—he overpowers and holds down his opponents, but lacks the ability to finish fights in the thrilling manner of Nurmagomedov.

So Covington decided that he needed a character.

“I wouldn’t be in the UFC today if I wouldn’t have done that,” Covington says. “They wanted to cut me when I was fighting the No. 2 guy in the world Demian Maia [in October of 2017]. They told me, ‘No matter what happens in the fight, we’re not re-signing you.’ Me going out there and making it more about entertainment and show business is what saved my job.”

Covington’s choice of fighting personas was a controversial one: a Donald Trump-loving right-wing supporter.

The Trump administration stands for unity,” says Covington. “They’re doing great things for this country and putting America first.”

Covington was long regarded as a tremendously nice guy in the fight world, but nice guys do not sell fights. And then, following his 2017 win over Maia, which took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Covington infamously said, “Brazil, you’re a dump. All you filthy animals suck.”

Now, Covington sports a “Make America Great Again” hat and shows unremitting support for the current President.

The persona raises significant questions. Does it matter if Covington is playing a character? Is it a dirty tactic to take to nationalistic—and sometimes even racist—tones to sell your fight? Covington has defended his approach and comments, saying he has never made a racist statement.

“[This is] just me turning it up to eleven. It’s me being real. Most fighters are scared about what they say and they’re scared about what people think about them. I don’t care what people think about me,” he says. “If you don’t like me because I stand for the Trumps and I stand for the truth, then that’s your personal problem. That’s not my problem. I’m focused on myself and winning world titles.”

As for the fight itself, this is an interesting matchup featuring two elite wrestlers. The slight edge belongs to Covington, who brings nonstop pressure.

“Pressure bursts pipes,” says Covington. “When I put that type of intensity and relentless pressure on him, he’s not going to be able to hang, no different than any other opponent.”

Covington is also unique because he doesn’t just win fights, he makes his opponents look bad. Whether he gets the finish or not, fighters do not look their best against Colby Covington.

“I’m going to put him in the deep end of the pool and I’m going to drown him,” says Covington. “He’ll be so tired and he won’t be able to breathe. He’s going to look for a way out on Saturday night. He will break.”

If Covington wins, all ears will be on his post-fight speech. Despite his phenomenal ability as a fighter, he would not be in the UFC without the compelling character he’s developed—a character that most people want to see lose. Right or wrong, Covington has plans to take hold of the Welterweight Championship this Saturday at UFC 245—unless Usman can stop him.

“This fight stands for a lifetime of hard work,” said Covington. “It’s going to be another world championship to add to my mantle and take to President Trump in the Oval Office.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.