Colby Covington Kicked To Curb
I wouldn't exactly say the news was surprising, but I did raise an eyebrow when it broke; UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley will be defending his title against Kamaru Usman next. This decision comes despite Colby Covington having already won an interim title — which lasted just long enough to appear in a photo of Covington and President Donald Trump — which, presumably, would mean he was next in line. It's a bit of a messy situation, although the only one suffering for it is Covington. Appearing on the Ariel Helwani show, Covington stated that the UFC and Dana White had lied to him, and that he'd be willing to take his services elsewhere. (How much demand there is for him in the open market is debatable.)
This all comes after weeks of Dana White publicly chastising Woodley because he "doesn't want to fight," and now they've got him on the UFC 235 card fighting Kamaru Usman, whose last two wins (Demian Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos) are both fighters who Covington beat first, the latter being where he won the short-lived interim welterweight title. It's safe to say that Woodley's reticence was either motivated by a demand for more money and / or health issues, but obviously they've been resolved. Usman, managed by exceedingly sketchy manager Ali Abdelaziz, sneaking into a title contender slot is a bit of a coup.
Ali Abdelaziz has been gaining more and more power within the UFC, managing fighters and helping the UFC force the match-ups they want. I mean, what manager would let their athlete take a pay cut for a title shot (story)? At this point, Ali is practically a shadow matchmaker for the UFC, given the number of clients he has. This situation shows that the UFC was willing to move on from whatever plans they had for Covington, and demonstrates Ali's pull with the organisation. Not to completely discount Kamaru Usman as a fighter, but this upcoming title shot will be his pay-per-view debut and he lacks a signature win or any real fan appeal beyond a strong MMA record.
Covington was an unremarkable welterweight grinder until he essentially decided to adopt the persona of a MAGA CHUD, going so far as to join Dana White on a trip to the White House where he presented his interim title to President Alzheimer. The shtick was crass and pretty exhausting, but it managed to annoy a fair number of people; of the many horrors of 2018, a grindy wrestle-boxer named 'Colby' awkwardly acting racist for attention and beating some of my favourite fighters cannot go unremarked. Given that Dana White and Donald Trump are friends, it seemed like Colby's gimmick was at least earning him a push from the company. That the UFC opted to discard him and move on is intriguing.
As with any sort of public feud, one must remember that both sides are working an angle. The UFC wants compliant fighters, and those fighters want to be paid. The UFC seems to have taken the fight they could make right now, rather than one they could have sold better later on — or at least had the raw materials to sell, if they cared to. Woodley / Usman is not a compelling fight beyond seeing two very talented athletes matched up. With Covington you'd have a similar opponent but there would be trash talk and something to promote with beyond a highlight reel and Joe Rogan soundboard. I'm not saying I'm upset I won't get to see what sort of "anti-PC" stuff Covington may have said in a pre-fight build-up, but it seemed like it was an inevitable pairing.
The UFC is also under pressure to fill a huge schedule of events. While Covington at least has some semblance of heat, an inability to get cleared by the UFC doctors means that the UFC has moved on. I don't think there's a massive difference between Covington or Usman, in terms of drawing power, but there was a lot more to work with in Covington, and he was the interim champion. I know, it's 2019 and the last 2 years made it crystal clear that the UFC views titles as marketing props and trinkets but this is extreme. It was an interim title that was created for reasons unknown — as his fight with RDA wasn't even the main event of UFC 225 — and rendered moot 3 months later when Woodley fought Darren Till in September. Everyone else forgot all about that, so why wouldn't the UFC?
I won't say I'm upset on Colby's behalf, as I found his gimmick to be primitive and more exhausting than offensive. He and the UFC will probably continue to do business with each other, but this situation paints a broader picture of what the organisation is like now — and who is pulling strings behind the scenes. The focus is on filling fight cards and maintaining a gruelling schedule now. For fighters, this is a problem as the schedule makes so many fights interchangeable. This also is one of those changes that fans aren't really going to notice, but the impacts on the careers of those involved could be profound.
Published: January 7th, 2019.