If ever one needed a reminder of how explosive the rivalry is becoming between UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and his next opponent, Colby Covington, look no farther than the brouhaha that erupted inside a Las Vegas casino the day after Usman captured his title with a dominant win over Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. Surrounded by patrons at the Palms Casino Resort buffet, the two rivals nearly came to blows, with Usman’s manager Ali Abdelaziz also playing a part in escalating the exchange.
The incident only poured more gasoline onto the flames of a rivalry that has dominated the conversation at the top of the UFC’s welterweight ranks since UFC 235. At this point, the announcement of Usman vs. Covington appears to be a mere formality. UFC president Dana White has already stated that the matchup is next for the 170-pound division. And regardless of where the bout gets slotted on the MMA calendar, Covington knows Usman will be walking into fight night clouded by emotions once the moment arrives.
“I don’t think — I know I’m living rent-free [in Usman’s head],” Covington told MMA Fighting. “Just the reaction I saw of him the day after his fight with Woodley, that showed me everything I need to know. I am in his head and he’s going to fight me emotional and I’m going to knock him out.
“He going to be throwing wild, he’s going to be trying reckless takedowns, and he’s going to gas out, man. People don’t realize how good I am and how good my cardio is until you’re in that Octagon with me, and he’s going to find out the hard way. He’s going to get his head dunked underwater in the 10-foot part of the pool. We’re not going to be in the kiddie pool like he’s used to, so his time is coming to an end. It’s just a matter of time.”
Usman has made no secret that his fight against Covington will be a deeply personal one. The two have feuded on and off for more than a year, both on social media and in person. That rivalry escalated even further on UFC 235 fight week, with Covington crashing Usman’s open workout and the two fighters then being separated by security outside the Octagon following Usman’s victory over Woodley. Later that night, at UFC 235’s post-fight press conference, Usman didn’t mince words when asked about the exchange.
“I want to f*ck that guy up so bad,” he told reporters. “I can’t be in a room with that guy. I can’t be in a room with him. It’s like, I just can’t. I can’t wait to be healed up and really put my hands on him. That’s one I’m really gonna enjoy, brutalizing him.”
But Covington has ruffled plenty of feathers throughout his rise as a controversial and brash welterweight title contender, and the American Top Team product vowed that although the rivalry may be personal for Usman, he doesn’t share the same sentiments.
“I was begging to fight him earlier in my career,” Covington said. “You can go and ask (ATT owner) Dan Lambert right now. That’s not a lie. We asked to fight him when Glenn Robinson was his manager and he turned the fight down three or four times, and this was right after he won The Ultimate Fighter, the ATT vs. Blackzilians [season], so I was already looking at him. I’m like, ‘Let’s fight, man. You beat all these guys from my gym, but you didn’t beat the best welterweight from our gym, and I am the best welterweight from our gym.’
“We’ve been destined to clash for a long time. The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, man. He’s out here trying to make this a political battle. Like, what are you talking about? He’s talking about the wrath of every immigrant he’s going to beat up on me. Come on, bro. You don’t even know the difference between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants. I knew he was dumb, but I didn’t know he was that dumb.”
It’s that last part, regarding Usman’s comments on immigrants, that captured headlines following Usman’s recent appearance on Joe Rogan’s MMA podcast.
A Nigerian-born athlete who proudly represents his African ancestry, Usman vowed to bring “the wrath of every immigrant in this country” down upon Covington once the two fight. And for Covington, whose feud with the entire country of Brazil helped propel his infamy during his rise as a UFC interim welterweight champion, the sentiment behind Usman’s words is both confusing and misplaced.
“He’s the D-2 scrub,” Covington said. “He came from a Division II college. He’s not educated. I went to a Division I school and he doesn’t know his facts, man. He’s stereotyping. He’s trying to say, ‘Oh, all the Asian people in the nail salons,’ and then he was about to say, ‘All the Mexi—uh, I mean, the immigrants that are the workers.’ He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s getting all of these lines from Abdel-a-sleaze and he’s just looking stupid. He’s making himself look stupid. He’s struggling to find his identity. He doesn’t know what his identity is now. He’s trying to be this good guy, but then he’s out attacking me at the Palms buffet line in front of kids and pregnant ladies, so how does that make you a good guy?
“You’re a piece of shit. And now you’re trying to make this a political battle but you don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’ve never even once mentioned anything about immigrants, and now you’re trying to make this about immigrants and you don’t even know illegal or legal. Like, you’re trying to talk about the wall but you don’t even know what you’re talking about. You’re just saying stuff, trying to [grasp] at straws, hoping you’re going to get a good reaction. But really he’s just making himself look stupid and I’m sure Joe Rogan is embarrassed for having him on his show.”
Theatrics aside, the fight itself presents a fascinating stylistic matchup between two of the best grinders in the welterweight division. Many MMA observers have drawn comparisons between Covington and Usman’s fighting styles, both of which are centered around a combination of constant forward pressure and a steady barrage of takedowns.
But Covington pushes back at the notion that he and Usman are similar fighters — and he intends to prove that point once the time for talk ends and the Octagon door swings shut.
“You’re going to see an amateur versus a professional,” Covington vowed. “A professional in every sense of the word. I’m talking about myself when I say professional. He’s an amateur, he doesn’t know how he’s conducting business. He’s trying to attack me in a Palms buffet line in front of kids when he was trying to give a speech about kids the night before. It just shows how two-faced and hypocritical he is.
“And as soon as that cage door locks, he’s got no way out. So you’re going to see a professional versus an amateur. He’s not going to go five rounds. I’m going to knock him out, he’s going to be emotional in there, and I’m going to gas him out. He’s going to be so tired. All those muscles that he carries around, he’s going to need extra oxygen to them, and he’s going to leave the Octagon on a stretcher, mark my words.”