If you’ve been reading this space for a while, you know my political leanings are no secret. In fact, I’ll use my platform to state it again: Donald Trump is the worst president this country has ever had.
But Colby Covington has a platform, too, and he uses his to say Trump is the best president in our nation’s history.
I’m paid to call things like I see them, and I have an obligation to separate what I think of someone’s political leanings from what they do in the cage. So, with that in mind, make no mistake about it: Covington is one of the best fighters on the face of the planet, and he proved it in emphatic fashion with his fifth-round finish of former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley on Saturday night.
Covington’s MAGA persona is grating and corny, and his attempts to turn all of his fights into pro wrestling-style feuds lack the showmanship Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor possess. But the man delivers every time he steps into the cage. That’s good news for his fan base, and his haters are just going to have to deal with the fact he’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Because that wasn’t just a victory Covington had in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 36. Covington’s injury TKO win over Woodley was a statement that he had fully rebounded from his loss to current champ Kamaru Usman and will remain a factor at the top of the division for some time to come.
Covington gave Usman the most challenging fight he’s had in his UFC run last December. But in the end, Usman dished out a wicked beating over the championship rounds, literally breaking Covington’s jaw before the bout was waved off in the fifth.
That sort of thing has broken contenders’ spirits in the long term, rendering them never quite the same in the aftermath.
Covington, however, displayed all the tools he utilized in the run up to his shot at Usman, in which he won seven consecutive fights and earned an interim title along the way.
His MMA wrestling is among the very best in the sport, as he thoroughly out-grappled an opponent who also comes from a strong wrestling base. His cardio is elite – Usman, another cardio freak, is the only one who was able to match him – and he never took a break over the course of four-plus rounds. And oh, by the way, his striking is underrated, and he effectively utilized it to repel Woodley, who still has knockout power, as Woodley tried to claw his way back into the fight in the second and third rounds. All in all, Covington outlanded Woodley 232-67 in total strikes.
Is Woodley diminished over his prime? Yes, but neither Usman nor Gilbert Burns, who fight one another next for the welterweight title and who are the last two to fight Woodley, could finish him. Covington did.
The struggle for the biggest money welterweight fights is real, and Covington, the fighter, let the world know Saturday night that he’s still on that short list for marque bouts.
As for Covington the persona, well, this was a UFC on ESPN+ streaming card, which on paper means it’s considered third tier. But in reality, the interest level in the event was similar to a pay-per-view, which was underscored by Covington getting a call form Trump live on the ESPN+ post-fight show. I can’t confirm this, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet no president has ever called into a Thursday night Top Rank boxing card.
Covington’s made it clear he wants either a rematch with Usman or a grudge match with former American Top Team teammate Jorge Masvidal. White indicated he’s leaning toward the latter, and the fight simply makes sense.
Usman’s already got the Burns fight lined up. Masvidal has been angling for a Nate Diaz rematch, but we’ve seen that one already. Covington and Masvidal’s animosity toward each other was such that Covington finally had to leave ATT, which is a gym known for a better tolerance level among teammates that don’t like each other than most major gyms.
This is the type of legitimate grudge that doesn’t need hype but has two fighters who know how to command attention anyway. It’s as close as a guaranteed hit as the UFC has right now and doesn’t need a title belt to sell it.
That’s where Covington stands after his latest win. Maybe you like Covington’s MAGA persona. Maybe you consider it nails on a chalkboard. But his fighting skills keep him relevant, and Saturday suggests that’s not about to change.