UFC on ESPN 5: The Rise of Colby Covington


By: Jesse Donathan

UFC on ESPN 5 is taking place Saturday, August 3, 2019 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The card is headlined by former perennial UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler versus former UFC interim welterweight champion Colby Covington. According to a July 28, 2019 Sherdog.com article titled, “Dana White: Colby Covington to Receive Welterweight Title Shot with Win at UFC Newark,” author Tristen Critchfield writes that there is a lot riding on the line this weekend for Covington should he manage to get past a former champion in Robbie Lawler who isn’t a walk in the park for anyone in the UFC 170-pound welterweight division.

According to Critchfield, “Covington captured the interim welterweight crown with a five-round verdict over Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225 in June 2018. However, he was stripped of the belt when he wasn’t ready to face then champion Tyron Woodley the following September.”

As reported in a June 10, 2018 MMAWeekly.com article titled, “Colby Covington Wins Interim Title, Turns Attention to Tyron Woodley (UFC 225 Results),” author Jeff Cain writes that Colby Covington captured his interim UFC welterweight title after UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley was sidelined with an injury. Former training partners at American Top Team (ATT) in Florida, the two are intimately familiar with one another. After defeating dos Anjos at UFC 225, the new interim champion set his sights on the divisions actual champion.

“Tyron Woodley, you’re a friggen coward,” said Covington. “Why did you let this little, filthy animal take this ass whooping tonight? It was supposed to be you,” writes MMAWeekly.com. “You can’t run. You can’t hide anymore Tyron Woodley. I’m coming for you. Like I said, this is the real championship belt,” Covington said.

Following Covington’s victory, the UFC star with a penchant for WWE style self-promotion took his act all the way to the top. In an August 2, 2018 CBSSports.com article titled, “LOOK: Colby Covington, UFC president Dana White visit Donald Trump in Oval Office,” author Cody Benjamin writes that, “Interim UFC welterweight champion Colby Covington promised that he was going to meet President Donald Trump at the White House, and UFC president Dana White said he would make it happen. Well, they are indeed men of their word.”

According to Benjamin, “After defeating Rafael dos Anjos via unanimous decision to claim the interim welterweight championship at UFC 225, Covington said he wanted to present his belt to Trump in the nation’s capital. He did just that this week, and Thursday he provided the proof in the form of a picture on Instagram with he and the president in the Oval Office.”

In a July 30, 2017 MMAFighting.com article titled, “Dana White criticizes Tyron Woodley over UFC 214 performance,” author Danny Segura quotes UFC president Dana White as going on record about the then reigning champion Woodley as stating, “Listen, it’s easy to say a win is a win but when you get booed out of an arena, that means people don’t want to watch you fight, you know. And that’s how you make a living. It’s not good if people don’t want to watch you fight.”

In March of 2019, Dana White found the solution to his problems when Woodley fell to the surging Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, losing his welterweight title by unanimous decision to “The Nigerian Nightmare.” Interestingly, it was not the UFC interim champion Covington that Woodley fought, but instead the challenger Usman. A previously scheduled title eliminator between Covington and Woodley was reportedly scrapped when Covington underwent nasal surgery.

According to a February 28, 2019 LA Times article titled, “Colby Covington storms UFC workout, claims ‘corruption’ and hints at exit,” author Lance Pugmire writes “Covington, who was bypassed for a welterweight title shot against champion Tyron Woodley by Kamaru Usman for UFC 235, threatened that if he isn’t assigned to fight Saturday’s winner for the title, he’ll ask for his release and join a different mixed martial arts company.” The report went on to state that Covington was convinced the vast majority of fans wanted to see him fight Woodley, not Usman, going even as far as to say, ‘This is corruption from the UFC,’ the Clovis, Calif.-born Covington, 31, told reporters after being escorted away from Usman’s workout at the MGM Grand by UFC security guards.”

While Covington is alleging corruption, which indeed comes in many forms in combat sports, at the very least I am convinced this is all Kabuki theatre bare minimum. Here we are in August of 2019, and not only was Covington, the UFC’s interim welterweight champion, passed over for a chance to unify the belts against Woodley but he is now fighting Lawler, who is obviously not the champion Usman yet Covington has not asked for his release or signed with another mixed martial arts promotion.

Instead, the UFC killed two birds in one stone by matching Usman up with Woodley who managed to dethrone the reigning champion and sent Tyron packing to the back of the line. In his place, a green champion in Usman who has helped clear the landscape for Covington to make the UFC’s welterweight division great again.

In the process, Covington, a notorious heel for the promotion who built his house in the company by talking his way into the headlines has attempted to turn babyface by getting over on the audience, or the mark as they are known in professional wrestling circles by eliciting sympathy from the mixed martial arts community with tales of corruption from corporate big business. A heel, the perennial bad guy, can never be anything else but the villain. When you have the heel pointing the finger at someone else as the bad guy, they’re no longer the evil doer in the soap opera but are instead the sympathetic hero only looking for justice in a cold, hard world; the babyface. It’s a trick straight out of the professional wrestling playbook and still seems as effective now as it was back in the late 1990’s when Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon successfully worked the angle.

The UFC created the interim welterweight title for Colby Covington because they were tired of the boring and safe Tyron Woodley. Covington, an entertaining personality the fans love to hate, gets his name in the headlines and is in my opinion the more marketable fighter for the promotion compared to Woodley who has fell out of the organization’s good graces.

In a brilliant move from Covington, ESPN’s Ariel Helwani is reporting that the former UFC interim welterweight champion has obtained permission from legendary WWE professional wrestler Kurt Angle to use his popular theme song this weekend at UFC on ESPN 5 in Newark. A tune regularly accompanied by chants of “You suck” from the audience, Covington’s decision to come out to Angles theme all but guarantees an exciting environment for those in attendance who will feel compelled to participate in the derision as Covington makes his way to the Octagon.

The phrase, originating in the late ‘90s has followed Angle throughout his career as both a heel and babyface in the industry, managing to transcend generations of wrestling fans in the process. If all goes according to plan, the entrance will prove entertaining for millions of ESPN viewers around the globe in a small glimpse of the promotional prowess that sets Covington apart from his mixed martial arts peers. Proving there is more overlap in mixed martial arts and professional wrestling than one might initially think.

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