Ahead of UFC 245 on Saturday, the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner turned 170-pound king has already heard just about every possible insult from Covington. But there were two particular jabs that crossed the line.
At the top of the list was Covington invoking Glenn Robinson’s name when he was exchanging words with Usman at the pre-fight press conference several weeks ago. Robinson was one of the founders of the Blackzilians, a team that Usman represented on the UFC reality show, before he passed away in 2018.
Covington repeatedly has brought up Robinson, saying Usman likely gave the manager the heart attack that killed him and Robinson would be watching their fight from hell.
“The man has passed away and passed on,” Usman said when asked about Covington’s comments on Robinson when speaking to MMA Fighting. “What more do you stand to gain from continuing to try and degrade his name. That’s kind of a line you don’t cross.
“You let dead men sleep. Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned that lesson.”
Covington also lobbed cheating accusations at Usman. He claimed his upcoming opponent had used EPO (erythropoietin), a performance-enhancing drug that aids endurance and is banned at all times. It’s the same substance that former UFC champion T.J. Dillashaw got busted for using earlier this year, which resulted in a two-year suspension.
According to Usman, he wasn’t aware what EPO was before Covington started taking shots at him at that same pre-fight press conference. But he vehemently denies taking any PEDs during his fighting career.
“He kept saying that, and I’m like what is that?” Usman said. “I didn’t know what that was, and then somebody explained to me what it was. I haven’t changed since the first moment I came to the UFC. I haven’t changed from my first professional fight to my last fight.
“I look the exact same because I put in the exact same amount of work each and every time. The only thing that changes are my skills, and that comes with the time spent honing my craft.”
As much as Covington’s insults may boil down to psychological warfare, Usman just shrugs it off.
“I understand why he’s doing it because he wants something to talk about to try and ruin someone’s name or identity or what not,” Usman said. “None of that is going to matter. At the end of the day, god willing, he steps into that cage, and when we hit each other for the first time, he’s going to understand that it’s different.”
In many ways, Usman looks at Covington as a disease that’s sprung from a virus infecting the UFC ranks. Talking loud and saying crazy things gets more attention than the work that’s being done inside the Octagon. It’s part of the reason he’s stayed so even tempered in the face verbal assaults, because overreacting would be giving his opponent exactly what he wants.
“That’s the M.O. of the sport, that’s kind of where we’re at in the sport nowadays,” Usman said. “To where it’s just, ‘I need attention however I can get it,’ so that’s what guys care about now. I just need attention where I can get it, so I don’t care about how I get it. The way they see it is, ‘I’d rather have a bad name than no name.’
“Something like that, it’s hard in a sense. But the competitor in me has to understand and detach and just wait for my moment to be able to teach him the lesson he should learn.”
While Usman doesn’t have many compliments to pay Covington, he’ll give him credit for one inauspicious achievement heading into UFC 245.
“I will give him props, I don’t think in the history of the sport—it’s almost like the history of combat sports period—I don’t think there’s ever been a guy universally hated this bad,” Usman said. “In the last couple of months, I’ve been in maybe five or six different countries, and I can’t tell you how many people would come up to me and say ‘I can’t wait for you to kill this guy.’ It’s overwhelming with an alarming amount.
“He’s done something right, because to be hated by the world, that’s tough to do.”