Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Colby Covington is no stranger to making controversial statements, but the always-outspoken welterweight has received a lot of blowback in the wake of comments he made toward Kamaru Usman and Tyron Woodley this past weekend.
Following his win over Woodley at UFC Vegas 11, Covington called the former champion “a communist” and “a Marxist,” adding that “he hates America.” Covington also took aim at Black Lives Matter, saying the movement “is standing up for lifelong criminals” and it’s “a complete sham” and “a joke.”
Earlier in the night during his post-fight interview on ESPN, Covington got into a heated war of words with Usman, who was working on the broadcast that night. After receiving a call from President Donald Trump on the air, Covington then decided to insult Usman, who originally hails from Nigeria, during an insult-filled exchange.
“Who did you get a call from? Did you get a call from, freaking, your little tribe? Did they give you some smoke signals for you?” Covington shouted. “You’re a joke, Marty Fakenewsman!”
After the event ended, welterweight contender Leon Edwards responded to Covington, promising to take out the “racist scumbag.” On Wednesday, he told MMA Fighting that’s absolutely a fight he’s pursuing. But he also said facing Covington in the octagon still resolve the issue of what was said live on ESPN without any kind of repercussions.
“That’s what got me – the UFC has said nothing about it,” Edwards said. “ESPN has said nothing about it. Letting it flow like it’s a normal thing to f**king say and do and it’s not. Your tribe and smoke signals and blah, blah, blah, and he’s calling Woodley a terrorist because of Black Lives Matter. All these statements he’s making is racist. There’s no other way to go around it.”
ESPN did delete a clip of the exchange from its official MMA Twitter account, but UFC President Dana White indicated Covington wouldn’t face any penalties, and ESPN made no formal statement on the matter.
“If it was the other way around, if a Black athlete was saying to a white athlete in that regards, people would report it straight away,” Edwards continued. “I find it very weird that no one is stepping up and no one is saying anything. UFC isn’t saying anything about it. ESPN is allowing it to carry on. I understand he’s creating a character, but race that’s not a character. That’s just hate, and he’s spreading hate. I never liked the guy and after that – I 100 percent don’t like the guy.”
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya believes the problem goes much deeper than the a subject of good or bad taste when addressing Covington’s comments.
“It just shows you the landscape of the media, what it is right now,” Adesanya said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I made a joke about dropping [Yoel] Romero like the Twin Towers and everyone lost their mind, even if I said it was a joke and it was pretty funny, but people took it as I was being offensive and digging – but I was making a joke.
“This guy has directly insulted my culture, my brother and many other cultures and stuff and no one says anything. But it just shows you a mirror. Shows you a mirror to you guys. So yeah, I don’t really care. Kamaru Usman broke his jaw.”
In response to Covington’s comments on Saturday night, featherweight Hakeem Dawodu did not mince words with his opinion on the subject.
“I found them extremely rude, racist,” Dawodu. “I’m kind of surprised he’s allowed to talk free like that. You know everyone’s allowed to talk freely, but I took offense to it. It’s crazy that it’s comments like that causing more and more of a divide amongst the people. So that’s how he gets down, but I’m not really with that, and I took offense to that for sure.
“That’s racist. They were almost worried about my walkout song, and he’s going to be saying stuff like that and that’s crazy, especially on such a big stage. I feel like that’s only going to promote more and more divide and cause more and more issues. He’s got the president calling him, backing him up on that. I don’t really appreciate it, and that’s how it is I guess.”
UFC bantamweight contender Sijara Eubanks appreciates that the promotion gives the athletes a platform where they are allowed to speak their minds without being censored.
That said, she doesn’t believe fighters should just get away with making racist comments without being called out for it.
“Let’s be real first and foremost, it wasn’t unfortunate, it was flat out racist what Colby was saying,” Eubanks said. “It was racist, it was disgusting and quite frankly disappointing. But at the same time, the one thing I do appreciate is the UFC lets whoever say whatever. They have never muzzled us as fighters. If you want to talk, don’t want to talk. If you want to be political, you don’t want to be political. I have to appreciate that the company lets us say what we want.
“It is America, and everybody can say what they want, but to be fair, I think guys that talk like Mike Perry and Colby Covington, I think a lot of things they say are racist and disgusting. I think it should be reported as such instead of unfortunate or controversial. Like let’s be real, it’s racist. He’s calling the guy a Marxist and a communist, and he’s saying that he’s un-American. Like if you’re born in this country, you’re American. I don’t give a damn. If you were born in this country, I don’t care what your background is, what your race is, what your socio-economic status is, you’re an American and that’s it. To have another American say that you’re not, I think it’s flat out f**ked up. It’s more than unfortunate.”
Eubanks referenced Perry, who previously used racial slurs on social media as well as during a recent encounter during an argument that turned physical at a restaurant in Texas. While she’s certainly not against free speech, Eubanks believes there’s a double-standard at play with the kind of comments coming from Perry and Covington.
“If I came out and called somebody a redneck or honky or something like that, I don’t think I would get that kind of pat on the wrist like Colby got,” Eubanks said. “People are rushing to his defense, ‘Oh, he’s just promoting himself.’ He doesn’t need to promote himself at this point to that extent. If you can say it out and pretend it’s a schtick or show, I just don’t think playing with something that’s sensitive as race, especially in the timeframe that we’re in, is something that you should use to promote yourself, and I don’t think it’s promotion.
“I think it has to come from some source of how you really feel. If not, you’re a terribly good actor, and quite frankly, it’s disgusting that people defend them. Same thing with Mike Perry. Mike Perry dropped the ‘N’ word all over the place and he pushed around people and women and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, he needs help.’ No, that’s abusive and alcoholic and racist. That’s what it is. I think when it starts getting presented as such, hopefully, things will start to change a little bit.”
A common defense of Covington has been that he’s ultimately just playing a character to drum up support or disdain with the UFC fan base, which in turn results in higher paydays, bigger television ratings and better opportunities for his career.
There is definitely some truth to that strategy’s effectiveness when it comes to the UFC. But Dawodu argues that promotion can only go so far before it’s just flat out offensive.
“People think he’s playing a character, but to the common person, they don’t know that,” Dawodu said. “They hear this guy that they’re looking up to and I ain’t gonna front, he’s a good fighter, he’s definitely a good athlete, and people are looking up to him, and they’re going to think it’s OK.
“Not only is he saying that, he’s saying it on a world stage and it’s OK, and I don’t really rock with that.”
The subject of race and racism has been center stage since the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police as well as the shooting of Jacob Blake. Athletes like Adesanya and Dawodu along with NBA superstars such as LeBron James have participated in protests or spoken up in support of causes like Black Lives Matter.
James in particular has become a lightning rod for political commentary due to his status as one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet. Back in February after he addressed his feelings on President Trump as well as race in America, FOX News host Laura Ingraham told him to “shut up and dribble” because no one wanted to hear his opinion on politics.
Ingraham then defended NFL quarterback Drew Brees’ right to speak out after saying he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag” in response to players kneeling during the National Anthem.
Adesanya can’t help but see a similar parallel when it comes to UFC athletes who speak out about an issue like Black Lives Matter versus Covington answering a call from President Trump and then making derogatory comments towards Usman a few moments later.
“No one bats an eye,” Adesanya said. “What is it, ‘Shut up and dribble?’ that lady said. There was a lady that did that. She said shut up and dribble, but when it was someone else, then she was like, ‘I think he has a right to express his, blah, blah, blah.’
“The hypocrisy. Like I said, it’s a mirror. You should look into the mirror.”
Perhaps even more concerning than the words spoken by Covington is the lack of response from the UFC or ESPN in the aftermath of that particular interview.
UFC President Dana White has chalked it up to just being part of the fight business while ESPN has stayed silent regarding Covington’s comments, although a clip from that segment originally posted to their social media account is no longer available.
Requests for comment from ESPN were not returned.
“He’s wearing a MAGA hat and talking about politics all day, but when we do it, it’s, ‘We don’t want to hear about it, you shouldn’t talk about it,’” Edwards said about Covington. “When Colby does it, it’s, ‘He’s standing up for what’s right.’ It is a sad thing, but that’s the way world is.
“Nobody is pulling him on it. UFC hasn’t said nothing about it. ESPN ain’t said nothing about it. It is what it is. It’s f**ked up.”