Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Colby Covington has never been one to bite his tongue when attacking opponents or taking aim at his preferred political agenda and the UFC has no plans to shut him up.
Minutes after he soundly defeated Tyron Woodley in the UFC Vegas 11 main event, Covington appeared on the post-fight show where he engaged in a war of words with reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. During the segment, Covington made reference to Usman’s native country of Nigeria after accepting a call from President Donald Trump earlier during the same interview.
“Who did you get a call from?” Covington asked. “Did you get a call from freaking your little tribe? Did they give you some smoke signals for you?”
At the post-fight press conference, Covington was then asked about a derogatory post he made on social media where he blasted Woodley for wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and responding to every question during his media day with reporters with some variation of ‘Black Lives Matter’ in his answers.
“The Black Lives Matter is a complete sham – it’s a joke,” Covington said on Saturday. “They’re taking these people that are complete terrorists. They’re taking these people that that are criminals.
“These aren’t people that are hardworking Americans, blue-collar Americans. These are bad people. They’re criminals.”
While fact-checking what Covington says would probably be a full time job at this point, UFC President Dana White added during his appearance at the post-fight press conference that he’s not looking to censor the outspoken welterweight – or anybody else in his company for that matter.
He knew the situation between Covington and Woodley was going to turn ugly but he wasn’t going to tell either of them to tone it down.
“One of the things that we’ve never done here at the UFC is stop people from expressing how they feel about certain things inside or outside the octagon,” White said. “Even if it’s me, if it’s about me. Who’s more about free speech than we are? We literally let our people do or say whatever it is they do. It’s normal.
“I would have to say to this day the darkest one ever was Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and Conor [McGregor]. When I left that press conference, I didn’t feel great after I left that press conference. Everything that happened this week, I f**king saw it coming 100 miles away.”
As part of their pre-fight obligations, Covington and Woodley were originally scheduled to appear together at a press conference but those plans were scrapped just ahead of the event. White later said he did that purposefully to highlight the undercard on the event but it seemed strange that the UFC promoted the press conference featuring Covington and Woodley just a few days earlier.
Either way, White believes he knows exactly what would have happened if the welterweights were seated just a few feet away from each other so he didn’t necessarily need to see it again.
“I could f**king write the entire script for you right now what would have happened at that press conference,” White said. “You guys know it, too. Plus, you heard everything already. You heard all the talk. These guys wanted to fight, they hate each other, the whole deal.
“The Conor-Khabib thing, you didn’t see that coming. I didn’t see that coming. It was just very weird and very dark. That’s one of the weirdest ones ever. But again my point in saying that is we’ve never stopped anybody from expressing themselves and saying how they feel.”
As part of the UFC’s code of conduct policy, the promotion retains the right to punish athletes under a very wide scope of behavior. Here’s a piece of the code of conduct policy from the UFC:
“Fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social convention, and morals, and fighters will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule or disdain to the fighter or the UFC.”
Some fighters have been punished in the past including Matt Mitrione, who was suspended after making derogatory comments about transgender fighter Fallon Fox as well as former WEC champion Miguel Torres being released from the promotion after he made offensive posts about rape on his social media accounts.
Nate Diaz faced a 90-day suspension and a $20,000 fine after he used a homophobic slur on social media.
At the same time those punishments have been handed down, the UFC did not take action against Irish superstar Conor McGregor after he was caught on camera backstage at an event using a homophobic slur. McGregor later apologized on his own accord but he faced no retribution from the UFC.
While not an athlete, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan faced no recourse after he insulted transgender fighter Fallon Fox on his podcast while calling her “a f**king man.” Of course, White himself referred to Fox as “he” during an interview when the UFC president was asked to address the subject.
Based on the instances with McGregor and Nurmagomedov as well as Covington’s recent comments towards Woodley, it doesn’t appear that the UFC is seeking to censor anybody else these days. Politically charged subject matter obviously remains a hot button subject around the globe but White makes it clear that he’s not out to tell his athletes what they can or cannot say in the UFC.
“My philosophy is always this is a fight,” White said. “People are going to say mean sh*t to each other. It’s like ‘they shouldn’t be allowed to say that’ — they’re going to f**king punch each other in the face tomorrow. What could they possibly say? This is the fight game. I just don’t believe in all that.”