Whatever you think of Colby Covington, he’s putting a lot on the line this weekend.
“Chaos” received affirmation from UFC president Dana White that heading into Saturday’s main event encounter with Robbie Lawler at UFC on ESPN 5, Covington is the No. 1 contender for Kamaru Usman’s welterweight title. All he has to do to retain that spot is defeat Lawler, a former UFC champion, former teammate, and one of the most feared knockout artists in all of MMA.
No problem, right?
Meanwhile, Lawler is looking to erase the awful taste of a controversial submission loss to Ben Askren in his last fight. Lawler was dominating Askren until he wasn’t and now finds himself mired in a 1-3 stretch that threatens to push the 37-year-old all the way to the back of the contenders’ line. If he can knock out Covington however, he’ll throw a massive wrench in everybody’s plans.
The co-main event sees Jim Miller looking to break a “Jersey curse” as he fights in his home state. The 44-fight veteran is winless in his last five appearances in “The Garden State” and he isn’t exactly being given a lay-up in fellow lightweight veteran Clay Guida, who has won three out of four since returning to the 155-pound division.
In other main card action, Joaquim Silva meets Nasrat Haqparast in a lightweight bout, middleweights Trevin Giles and Gerald Meerschaert aim to get off the losing track, Scott Holtzman takes on Dong Hyun Ma in a potential firefight, and light heavyweight prospects Darko Stosic and Kennedy Nzechukwu clash in the opener.
What: UFC on ESPN 5
Where: Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey
When: Saturday, Aug. 3. The entire card will air on ESPN with the six-fight preliminaries beginning at 12 p.m. ET and the six-fight main card starting at 3 p.m. ET.
Colby Covington’s abrasive schtick may be what’s earned him headlines over the last couple of years, but it’s his ability to take care of business on fight night that has kept him at the top of the rankings and in front of the cameras. He’s become a potent pressure fighter and his strong wrestling base gives him the ability to dictate where the action goes against most opponents.
It remains to be seen if that includes Lawler, an elite striker who is hard to control on the ground. He’s ridiculously strong as he showed in his last fight when he lifted Ben Askren into the air and nearly dumped him on his head. He also has great timing when it comes to takedown defense.
But Covington is the kind of wrestler who won’t be deterred by a stuffed shot. He’ll reset, change levels, relentlessly battle for underhooks, and mix in some pesky striking through all of that. It’s a formula that has been effective against Lawler in the past, though there is also almost zero room for error. As firm as Covington’s chin is, he won’t want to test it against Lawler.
Tough fight to call because Covington has the versatility and toughness to frustrate Lawler, but he doesn’t have the finishing ability to truly threaten him. He’s going to have a hell of a time staying out of the way of Lawler’s power shots.
I’m of the belief that Lawler’s recent struggles are deceiving and that he adds another highlight-reel finish to his resume on Saturday.
Somehow, in a combined 59 UFC appearances, Jim Miller and Clay Guida have never fought. Ponder that for a second.
It also might be surprising to hear that Guida is older than Miller, not that you can tell since he still moves like a jittery 20-something year old. That’s a tough beat for Miller, who isn’t the fastest starter and could find himself working from behind after the opening five minutes.
Still, I like him to take the data from round one and adapt. Guida hasn’t always been able to translate his unique movement into effective offense and that’s going to cost him here, with every successful Miller strike likely to garner a loud reaction from the crowd that will influence the judges.
Not that I expect this one to go to a decision. Once Miller opens up with his striking, Guida will want to grapple with him and Miller should win the scrambles and set up a fight-ending submission.
Joaquim Silva and Nasrat Haqparast are one of two pairs of lightweights that could generate some serious fireworks on the main card. Don’t let the “Netto BJJ” nickname fool you, Silva loves to stand and bang and he’ll have an enthusiastic partner in Haqparast.
In his last two fights, Haqparast has shown rapidly improving boxing. He’s not just chasing knockouts, he’s smartly mixing in body work to wear down his adversaries. The finishing ability he displayed on the regional scene has yet to translate to the UFC, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. It’s unlikely he puts away the hardy Silva though.
Silva is a strong grappler, so he does have the option of clinching up with Haqparast and challenging him on the mat. That’s one area where Haqparast is still raw. It could very well be his downfall of Silva is able to take him down early in the rounds.
Versatility will be the difference here and unless Haqparast has made some major leaps in all-around ability since we last saw him, he’s going to either lose a decision here or be submitted.
This is a matchup of two talented fighters who just need to get out of their own way.
Like a lot of fighters that come from other sports, Trevin Giles, who originally took up MMA to stay in shape while playing college football, still has a long ways to go before his technique matches up with his physical gifts. He looked lost at times against Zak Cummings, an opponent who presented similar problems to what Giles will face when dealing with Gerald Meerschaert on Saturday.
Meerschaert doesn’t have the pop on the feet that Cummings has, so he’ll be more inclined to tie Giles up and eventually get the fight to the mat with either a trip or a takedown. This will be a huge test of Giles’s submission defense, as well as his character after suffering a humbling loss. On that same note, Meerschaert has to show that he can fight intelligently and not go all out looking to finish, an attitude that has cost him in his last two fights.
It’s tempting to pick Giles here given his youth and upside, but I don’t think he has the ground game to get past Meerschaert yet.
Scott Holtzman has a tendency to headhunt, which may explain why they matched him up with Dong Hyun Ma in the first place.
Officials are probably hoping that this will be a main card brawl and given Ma’s history, it’s a safe bet. Ma has shown that he can fight tactically, but against an opponent like Holtzman who is going to come right for him, it should awaken the beast inside “Maestro.”
It’s difficult to predict how a wild scrap might go, but I think Holtzman’s straight right is the best weapon in this match. Ma is no slouch in the power department either and he’s definitely quicker, it’s just that his history of knockout losses is disconcerting. He’s eventually going to get clipped and when Holtzman stuns him, he’ll seal the deal.
For the sake of the fans, let’s hope that Darko Stosic and Kennedy Nzechukwu’s recent losses don’t make them tentative. They both have a nose for KOs, but they also both take their time to set up their offense.
In what should be a strategic standup fight, I favor the more experienced Stosic. He’ll have to be on point to overcome Nzechukwu’s considerable reach advantage and if he can expand on the flashes of wrestling he’s shown in the past, that will only make Stosic’s case stronger.
For Nzechukwu, if he can control the distance, he could shut Stosic down before the Serbian fighter gets going. While it might not seem wise to get into a kicking contest with a Mirko Cro Cop protege, Nzechukwu putting his long limbs to work and forcing Stosic back will be a key factor here.
The shorter, more compact Stosic should be able to find the range at some point and get through Nzechukwu’s defenses, which have yet to be truly tested to this point in his career. If Nzechukwu shows that he knows how to counter-strike though, it could be a different story. Close call.