If Colby Covington had not developed and harnessed his Donald Trump–loving, MAGA persona, would he be back in position to challenge Kamaru Usman in the main event of UFC 268?
“Colby had to do all these extra theatrics just to get to where he wishes he was at,” says Usman, the reigning UFC welterweight champion. “And that’s the position where I’m standing.”
There is no questioning Covington’s skill. He is one of the most gifted wrestlers in UFC, as evidenced by his record (16–2) and victories against the likes of Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos and Robbie Lawler. A seven-fight winning streak put him in position to challenge for the belt in December 2019, leading to a remarkable back-and-forth fight ultimately claimed via TKO by Usman (19–1).
Since that loss, Covington has not stopped talking about how he is the top welterweight in the world. In defense of that claim, he defeated former welterweight champ Tyron Woodley (who was on a two-fight losing streak at the time), while Usman successfully defended his title three times, all in convincing fashion, once against Gilbert Burns and twice against Jorge Masvidal.
So why is Covington fighting for the title again, this time on a stage as grand as New York’s Madison Square Garden?
The easy is not overly complicated. The top of the welterweight division lacks star power (the less-heralded Leon Edwards is more than deserving of a title shot). If Usman is victorious at MSG, his next challenger will likely be Khamzat Chimaev, a phenom that is tearing through opponents. But Covington has secured his spot by combining an elite fighting arsenal with an explosively controversial character. The MAGA-hat-wearing, Trump-loving persona Covington created has undoubtedly elevated his status. In a world where so many people wish to be loved, Covington accepted the role of villain with open arms, relishing his opportunity to grab headlines by recklessly sprouting dangerous rhetoric while insulting Usman every step of the way.
“People are sick of Marty Juiceman,” says Covington, referring to Usman. “They want him out of there, and I’m the guy to do it. The key to winning the fight is doing what I do best, and that’s keeping the pressure on. I’m not going to let him get any breaks.
“Last fight, Marty was able to get multiple timeouts. I kicked him in the liver, he called a nut shot. I barely poke his left eye, he holds his right eye. He’s a terrible actor and on Nov. 6, he’s going to be a terrible fighter.”
Refusing to fall prey to his mind games, Usman laughed off Covington’s claims.
“He has a plethora of excuses,” Usman says. “Oh, the referee stopped it, and Oh, there was a fake eye poke. Even though the world clearly saw you finger my eyeball. It’s all excuses. But that’s why I fought him the way I did. I could have taken him down and beaten him up, but I chose not to—I chose to duke it out so he’d understand he couldn’t beat me on his best day. So, of course, he has to go to whatever excuse he thinks will help him play mind games.”
For all their disdain toward each other, Usman and Covington share similarities as competitors. However, they have arrived at their current destinations in distinctly different manners. Doors that once were closed have opened for Covington because of the controversial personality he has adopted. He sold his soul in the process, becoming this right-winged character. But Covington is not getting another shot at the belt anytime soon if he loses at UFC 268, potentially his last shot at rewriting his legacy by becoming the undisputed welterweight champion.
“People didn’t want to give me credit for what I’ve done in this sport,” says Covington, who was once an interim UFC welterweight champ. “All they want to talk about is how I had to turn it up to 11. Earlier in my career, I was a nice guy. I wanted the UFC to love me. But then I decided not to be that guy. I don’t care what people think, so I turned myself up to 11.
“If you don’t like me, step into the Octagon and try to say something. But there’s not a man alive that can do anything about it. No one has the skill set I bring to the UFC Octagon. They can’t push the pace like I do. There’s a reason everybody calls me the ‘Cardio King,’ that’s ’cause my cardio can’t be matched. When you mix cardio with a well-rounded skill set, there is no one in the world who can stop that.”
Usman, of course, has earned the right to say otherwise. Their fight at UFC 245 was certainly close, but he proved to be too much for Covington. In most fights, Covington has the clear advantage with his wrestling. Yet Usman, who is also an elite wrestler, presents a major obstacle as the better striker.
“I let my work speak for itself,” Usman says. “He’s a tough competitor. He has a good gas tank, he’s a good wrestler, he works hard. I recognize all that. I left no stone unturned in preparation, and I’m ready to go out there and give the best ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ possible.”
Covington chose a different route to success. He followed a blueprint—one that is loud, abrasive and, oftentimes, offensive—to seize people’s attention. Saturday’s matchup is not solely due to the noise Covington created in the cage but rather because of his words outside of it. This has led to a must-see fight, further heightening Usman as the hardworking champ while Covington plays the role of villain.
“Nov. 6 is going to be the greatest show people have ever seen,” Covington says. “It doesn’t matter if you bring The Hulk or Superman to Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6, I’m getting my hand raised and I will become the undisputed welterweight champion.”
Entering the bout a sizable favorite, Usman is staying focused on blocking out the outside noise, worried only about his opponent.
“The expectations are great, but I’m ready to go out there and perform,” Usman says. “He can say whatever he wants, but I definitely see Colby being finished this Saturday.”
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