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Colby Covington Played the Perfect Villain for Kamaru Usman

More than a title fight, UFC 268 was a proving ground for Usman and Covington. And in that battle, both claimed victory.

For the second time in as many meetings, Kamaru Usman defeated Colby Covington this past Saturday at UFC 268.

While the action in the Octagon certainly delivered, there was a genuine anticipation to this bout—one that motivated people to buy the card. Sports Illustrated learned that UFC 268 now ranks as a top-10 selling ESPN+ pay-per-view, a remarkable achievement considering this card did not feature Conor McGregor, Jon Jones or Ronda Rousey.

Instead, it was headlined by Usman and Covington, who previously didn’t stand out as the most recognizable names in mainstream sports. But they were wisely booked against each other for a rematch and, as UFC president Dana White stated after the fact, the card stood as a financial jackpot.

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As for the fight, Usman won by unanimous decision. Just like in their first encounter from December 2019, it was an especially close fight. Poised and controlled, Covington stuck to a disciplined game plan, one that prevented Usman from drilling him with the type of shot that could have ended the fight. A defining moment took place in the second round when Usman dropped Covington on two separate occasions, then controlled the action on the mat. Yet, had a few exchanges gone differently, this was a fight that was in reach for Covington.

“As a competitor, I respect him,” said Usman, speaking to reporters at the postfight press conference. “That’s the next-best guy in the division.”

After five grueling rounds—10 total against each other in their careers—Usman and Covington embraced and exchanged words of respect. When asked about the content of their brief discussion, Usman chose to keep those comments private.

“We’re two competitors that went to war,” Usman said. “We spent almost an hour inside that cage. So I’ll leave that between me and him.”

Never straying too far from his right-wing MAGA character, Covington stayed true to form in his postfight interview.

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“You see those injection marks all over [Usman’s] stomach,” said Covington. “The guy’s not a clean fighter. I’m a clean fighter.”

Responding to a question about their postfight exchange, Covington briefly—very briefly—broke character before remembering what generated so much interest in the fight.

“There was a little bit of respect for each other,” said Covington, who then quickly reverted back to customary form. “Even though he’s cut corners and I’ve never had to cut corners in my career. I came here the long way. I earned this, blood, sweat and tears, the hard way. I never cheated.”

The pair struck the right balance in seizing people’s attention. Covington plays the role of villain in an exceptional manner. Whether you agree with his rhetoric, which can be inflammatory and insulting, he found a perfect opponent in Usman.

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Covington served as the perfect antagonist to highlight all that is great about Usman, who until now had been lost in the shadows behind a more charismatic champion like Israel Adesanya or a former champ like Jon Jones. But that now feels like a distant memory. The two bouts against Covington—which bookend a torrid pace that also includes victories against Jorge Masvidal (twice) and Gilbert Burns—generated significant interest in Usman, highlighting his work ethic, his grace in the face of Covington’s repeated insults and a skill level that is unparalleled in the fight world. Covington’s act put a spotlight on Usman’s brilliance, as well as generated a significant reaction every time Covington held a microphone, further elevating his status.

So, of course, there had to be a moment of respect in the cage together. In addition to their two razor-thin battles in the cage, Usman and Covington contrasted each other in a way that brought them both to new heights. Covington has fully embraced his spot as the UFC’s top-ranking villain, and he has built a fandom that supports him—and Usman just headlined an extremely profitable PPV, showing his worth as a verifiable draw.

More than a title fight, UFC 268 was a proving ground for Usman and Covington. And in that battle, both claimed victory.

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

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