UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman knows it’s difficult to separate Colby Covington’s personality from the fighter he faces on Saturday night at UFC 245. But that’s exactly the way he’s approaching his first title defense.
Following a lopsided win over Tyron Woodley in March to claim welterweight gold, Usman knew his next fight would likely be against Covington, a former interim champ on a seven-fight win streak who made it his personal business to verbally assault opponents before, during and after a fight.
Usman knows that behind the word vomit, there’s a legit mixed martial artist and a threat to his title. Ignoring that would endanger his chances to leave Las Vegas with the belt. So for all the ways he personally can’t stand Covington, he has to acknowledge that fact.
“I’ll be honest, he’s the most dangerous welterweight out there besides myself,” Usman said about Covington when speaking with MMA Fighting. “He poses the biggest threat because of his pace, his pressure, and his wrestling ability.
“I welcome that. It’s another chance to be able to challenge myself in a different in a different way. Push myself in a different way. Take my mind to a different avenue that it hasn’t been to before.”
Grading Covington’s performances, Usman sees similarities in their paths to welterweight contention. He fought two of the same opponents back-to-back—Demian Maia and Rafael dos Anjos—and then watched Covington take on one of his teammates in former champion Robbie Lawler back in August.
Through those fights, Usman saw elements of what makes Covington a tough matchup for anybody in the division. He also recognized some shortcomings.
“I was impressed with the Robbie Lawler fight,” Usman said. “Because I felt Robbie still had a bit of a dog in him, where potentially Robbie could have let that dog out in that fight, just with all of the different things that Colby said leading up to it. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that.
“As far as the dos Anjos fight, I really wasn’t impressed, because I knew Colby could outwrestle dos Anjos in those early rounds, which he did, but then in the later rounds dos Anjos was taking him down and controlling him and won the last two rounds arguably.
“I’m impressed by the way he’s been able to stay at this spot. We all know fatigue makes a coward of us all, and Colby has done a really good job of fatiguing his guys and getting the nod in those fights.”
As much as Usman talks a good game about making Covington pay for all that trash talk, he knows this is going to be a battle worthy of his full attention. He considers Covington the kind of opponent who could push him to the brink. In a strange way, it’s what he wants after running roughshod through so many of his opponents in the past few years.
“When you have a video game at home and you win every single time, it’s not fun,” Usman explains. “It loses the luster of it. The same way with Covington, if I’m winning and I’m just running the table and I’m dominating every guy from start to finish, it kind of starts to lose its luster and the dangerous aspect of it.”
While he fully expects to win, Usman hopes Covington will be able to stick around for all five rounds. Because as satisfying as a quick knockout may be, it doesn’t send the same message as a sound thumping over 25 minutes.
“Me personally it’s more satisfying to dominate him” Usman said. “A lot of people don’t get that because a lot of people are casuals. They just want to see two guys hit each other until one guy falls over so they can get that shock value about it.
“Yes, that’s all fine, but for me personally, the competitor inside of me coming from a wrestling background, it says a lot more if you can break a guy’s will. When you’re mano a mano (and) you’re locked in there, I have the same skills, you have the same skills, and I’m able to overpower your will, break your will and completely dominate.”
Usman wants to generate the kind of performance at UFC 245 where Covington will be so defeated that he’ll look back on the loss years down the road and remember the beating he took at the hands of the best welterweight in the sport.
“It takes something away from him,” Usman said. “It emasculates him in a way to where he can sit at home tomorrow – or whether it’s five or 25 years from now – and when he looks at that moment, he knows that man was better than me. That’s what I would like.”