This past Saturday at UFC 296, Colby Covington failed to capture the undisputed UFC title for a third time. While his previous two attempts against Kamaru Usman were nail biters filled with momentum shifts and excitement, this effort versus Leon Edwards was the complete opposite.
Colby Covington looked every bit of a man who has no wins over any currently ranked 170 pounders and who has been on the sidelines for over 20 months.The usually-game Covington appeared gun shy, reactionary, and was outworked for the overwhelming majority of his lackluster performance.
While Edwards deserves praise for yet again showcasing his precision striking, high fight IQ, and sneaky ability to neutralize high level grapplers, it’s impossible to ignore just how ill equipped Covington seemed. He looked exactly like someone who did not deserve the opportunity to fight for gold in the first place.
Colby Covington’s right facing appeal has worn off
When Colby Covington was prominently featured on the broadcast for UFC 286 as Edwards concluded his trilogy with Usman, the writing was on the wall. By hook or by crook, the promotion was going to find some way to justify his third ascension to challenger status despite the clear holes in logic.
The reason why the UFC would go out of its way to shoehorn Covington into such a prominent position is pretty obvious: he attracts headlines and if the unconfirmed reports are correct he’s been attached to some successful pay per view events. But the forced build up that began at the O2 Arena in March set the tone for the remainder of the promotional cycle and the fight itself.
Colby Covington’s outspoken and brash persona felt far more labored than normal. Granted his abilities to sell himself as a heel have always lacked the finesse of more charismatic trash talkers, but this time he seemed particularly out of place and off the mark.
Look no further than the disaster that was the UFC 296 pre-fight press conference. When his colonial costume and distinctly unfunny banter failed to get a rise out of the champion, he sunk to poking fun at the 2004 murder of Edwards’ father. The resulting dust up would normally have been a high point for the presser. Think back to the cheers for Michael Chiesa and Kevin Lee’s altercation or when Jon Jones and Anthony Johnson trolled Dana White.
Instead of a blood thirsty audience applauding the scene, they awkwardly jeered and no sold out Covington’s weak while only a few seemed to find any amusement.
After such a subpar performance, his claims of being the rightful winner and taking “no damage” in the fight while blood poured down his face didn’t sound like someone genuinely confused with a close decision after laying it all on the line. They sounded more like a meaningless word salad. The political rants that followed must have been the dressing.
Not even Donald Trump, the former president that Covington has based his entire right wing alter ego around, thought enough of him to stick around for his post fight speech moments after being the subject of praise.
What comes next for Covington?
Much like he briefly did before the fight, afterwards Covington planted the seeds for a showdown against Stephen “Wonderboy ” Thompson directly contradicting UFC CEO Dana White’s desire to pair him with Shavkat Rakhmanov.
While Covington is hoping to set up what could be his one remaining favorable matchup with name value, White’s plans signal propping up the 35-year-old as a sacrificial lamb to arguably the most dangerous rising contender in the division. If the stars align for Rakhmanov bout, it has all of the makings of an exit ramp from the Colby era.
All signs point to Covington’s power in the sport dwindling rapidly. Unlike some of the most celebrated trash talkers in combat sports, he has very little to fall back on. Muhammad Ali’s relevance to social justice and sheer dominance at his peak have cemented his legacy. Conor McGregor’s words paired perfectly with spectacular finishes to push him into pop culture relevance and the Forbes list.
Chael Sonnen’s well timed humility and natural charm allowed him a high profile spot in the sport in spite of mixed in cage results and repeated controversies. Covington simply doesn’t have any of those traits
Without a captive audience, entertaining rhetoric, or an undeniable display upon the opening bell, then what’s the point? If the man at the center of Colby’s entire right wing alter ego can’t be bothered to stick around for his bumbling words on the mic, then why should we?
If the man who intentionally pissed off everyone around him can’t convincingly pair himself against the consensus nicest person in the sport, then
If that man can’t even deliver on fight night, then what good is he?