Colby Covington is convinced that his lowest-common-denominator heel approach to fight promotion is the road to riches, and only time will tell if he is correct. As of now, the evidence is spotty that it is making any kind of dent in the public consciousness, given that he has about 70,000 Instagram followers, and another 36,000 on Twitter. As a group, they could almost fill Michigan Stadium. This is not to denigrate Covington, only to note that if he figured it would be a quick build to fame and wealth, he might be mistaken.
If we’re being honest, the stuff that comes out of his mouth is so Trash Talk 101, it’s hardly worth noticing. He’s a guy trying to catch a wave of the zeitgeist with little cleverness or humor involved. “Make the welterweight division great again.” “Filthy animals.” “Donald Trump.” It’s topical but also a bit eh, and really, you might be offended as much by his lack of originality as by what he actually says.
Instead, it is the other, less notorious part of the Covington package that is truly getting the job done. And that is, he is a damn good fighter.
His style can best be described as blue collar, so in that, he stays on brand. He doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power. Instead, he beats you with basics. Standard combinations, relentless takedown attempts, tip-top conditioning.
The latter two are the twin pillars of his success, serving as complementary pieces that allow him to play the bully for extended periods of time. At UFC 225, Rafael dos Anjos did yeoman’s work trying to keep Covington off of him — he stopped 11 takedown tries — but still got taken down seven times over the course of the five-round UFC interim welterweight title bout.
There were times when dos Anjos would stuff a shot and disengage, only to see Covington charge right back inside for more. dos Anjos’ eyes would sharpen their focus on him like, You? Again? Aside from cutting sharper angles as his back neared the cage, there was little more dos Anjos could do to dissuade Covington from attempting to enter his airspace.
But what else can you do when an opponent is this persistent, this unyielding? The American was like a pit bull intent on mauling someone. During the fight, Covington threw 346 strikes and attempted 18 takedowns, according to FightMetric. There are fighters who can pump out that many punches and kicks in a five-round fight, or dig in for that many grueling takedown tries, but there are very few who can do both. Just as impressively, Covington was able to put forth that kind of work rate in his first-ever five-round fight. There was no major concern about pacing himself for the 25 minutes, even though it came against dos Anjos, who himself is known for an excellent gas tank.
If defending that kind of pace is exhausting for someone like dos Anjos, you have to wonder how the rest of the division will fare against Covington.
Woodley, who has been the champ for two years, will certainly mark the most stern test of Covington’s career, and will force Covington to dig even deeper into his toolkit. While wrestling has always been one of Covington’s strengths, Woodley has the ability to neutralize it, as evidenced by his career takedown defense rate of 97.6%, a number that ranks tops all-time in UFC history.
The fight between them will be a push-and-pull between Covington’s sheer aggression and Woodley’s ability to disengage and create space for his knockout power. If Woodley is able to create that separation, he’s likely to have a major striking advantage, even if Covington thinks otherwise.
“My pace alone is unstoppable,” Covington said in the post-fight press conference. “No one can keep my pace. Tyron Woodley’s felt it in the gym. He knows it. He’s tired at home, he’s probably still out of breath.”
Since Woodley does not generally fight at a breakneck rate, this will be a different kind of challenge for him, one that will be worth watching for the rest of us.
In the end, Covington’s insistence on playing a lowest-common-denominator heel will probably result in more money in his bank account but less appreciation for his abilities. It’s a tradeoff he seems willing to make, even if it short-changes his achievements. But after Saturday night, we must accept that he is not solely a mouth that roars. Turn down the sound if you must, but he is a threat worth watching.