Pre-Fight Thoughts: Rafael Dos Anjos -vs- Colby Covington
You may be wondering why Colby Covington is vying for an interim welterweight title this weekend. The answer is simple: because it's 2018 and the UFC's concept of marketing begins and ends with adding a title belt to the equation. The decision, as patently absurd as it is, seems to have worked in the UFC's favour, as the main event was marred by Yoel Romero missing weight for his second consecutive title fight, so at least there is still a title fight on the card — albeit a very dubious one. Serving as the co-main event for UFC 225, the winner will next face Tyron Woodley to unify the weltweweight titles whenever the champion is healthy or the UFC decides to pay him properly — whatever the bone of contention is this week.
I don't want to denigrate this fight too me, though. Rafael Don Anjos' resumé is quite solid, boasting a UFC lightweight title and a successful defence. His opponent, Colby Covington, brings a much weaker set of bonafides to the table, but is the only notable 170-pounder who is available at the moment. Covington is a decent prospect, who has dispatched most of the challenges put in front of him — with a brief setback coming in the form of a guillotine submission loss to Warlley Alves — but doesn't seem quite ready to be in any sort of title picture. RDA's last two wins came over ex-welterweight champ Robbie Lawler and a lopsided steamrolling of Neil Magny. Covington boasts a decent record, but his last two wins were both decision, and the last of which saw him get soundly outboxed by Demian Maia of all people...
To be clear: Covington can absolutely win this fight, I am not saying that is not a possibility, but the fact he is even in a position to have a chance is what vexes me. A number of writers have posited that rampng up the volume on his heel act has garnered a lot of attention for Colby, and I think that's true — attention from within the UFC. No one outside of the hardcore MMA scene knows or cares who Covington is, but within the bubble a lot of easily impressed folks have conflated Covington's decision to turn his unlikability up to 11 with some sort of actual charisma. While Covington has managed to stand out from a pack of largely interchangeable wrestle-boxers with the personality of wet cardboard, he comes off as extremely obnoxious and unlikeable.
Comparisons to former UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen somewhat miss the point, although the two certainly share the ability to crutch their more incendiary statements on a strong bed of implied — and some times even over — racism and xenophobia. If Covington weren't so lazy and unskilled with his provocations, I would probably be a lot more offended, but instead I find myself rolling my eyes when I see things like his claim he will have RDA deported after he wins, and that he intends to give the belt to Donald Trump... This is the cheapest of the cheap heat, if you're convinced that Colby is playing a heel with any sort of skill or refinement then you are incredibly easy to impress and you have my condolences.
Disregarding Covington's third-rate Chael impression &mdashl who, himself, was a second-rate "Superstar" Billy Graham — that still leaves Rafael Dos Anjos with a credible opponent. Dos Anjos wields advantages in the striking and grappling departments, though Covington is more than just a competent wrestler, which could make for a very interesting fight depending on whether or not it stays standing or not. If the fight stays on the feet, Dos Anjos should be able to piece Covington up; it's hard to overstate how bad it is that Colby got out-struck by Demian Maia — a jiu-jitsu ace who doesn't even like hurting people. Dos Anjos possesses good boxing, which should allow him to control exchanges on the feet, and stay off of his back.
Welterweight is almost exclusively the domain of wrestle-boxers now, so if you're not able to setup takedowns with decent striking, then you're going to have a bad night. This is why I have RDA taking the win here. It's not that Colby can't win — it's actually very depressing to contemplate the prospect of a Covington win here — it's that I believe an on-point Rafael Dos Anjos possesses all the tools to defeat him at this point in his career. Covington is mainly a wrestler, and his striking — at least as far as we've seen — is not very good, and I think that will determine most of this fight. If RDA ends up on his back for prolonged periods of time, then all bets are off. There is also some merit to the notion that RDA's time as a top-level MMA fighter is in short supply, given his lengthy career, numerous past injuries and the toll of 12 years of cutting down to 155 pounds.
On the surface, it doesn't really seem like an old guard versus new guard affair, but given how short most MMA careers are I think the concept fits. Covington is representative of a newer generation of MMA fighter, even if his own development is still far from complete. Dos Anjos is far from ancient, but 34 is hardly young by fight game standards — he definitely represents the previous generation of fighters, who evolved to truly mix the martial arts they had learned rather than simply being "a jiu-jitsu guy" or "a striker." This is easily the toughest test Covington has faced, by a wide margin. For Dos Anjos, this fight is the key to staying relevant and extracting the maximum value from the final stretch of a nearly 15-year fighting career.
My personal pick is Dos Anjos, who I expect to piece-up Covington on the feet and either TKO him or secure a submission after stunning him. Still, this fight concerns me; by no means do I suffer from any sort of Just World Fallacy, but it would genuinely pain me to see Colby Covington — with his hackneyed, embarrassing "heel" shtick — end up with a UFC title, even an interim one. The heat I have with Covington isn't that I want to see him lose, it's that I don't want him to exist; this is nothing like the hatred that Floyd Mayweather cultivated and earned hundreds of millions of dollars from; this is just some meathead being a complete jackass without even a shred of skill or refinement. I would appreciate a refutation to the notion that one can tweet their way to a title shot with movie spoilers... (I wish I was joking.)
Published: June 9th, 2018.