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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on ESPN 5

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UFC Fight Night: Covington v Lawler Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

When Jorge Masvidal set the UFC record with his five-second knockout of Ben Askren on July 6, the momentum was in his corner to be the next challenger for Kamaru Usman’s welterweight title.

That was in spite of the fact that Colby Covington had won an interim title in the division and never got his title shot. And that Covington, his teammate, was riding a six-fight win streak and came into Saturday’s main event in Newark, N.J., with a 14-1 record.

Covington was matched with Robbie Lawler, a former champion in the division, known for both his punching power and takedown defense. It hardly seemed like a walk in the park, even though Covington was a sizeable favorite given each man’s record over the past few years.

When it was over, it was very close to that walk in the park. Covington dominated almost every aspect of the fight and won a clear-cut decision.

Based on what Dana White said on Tuesday, this was enough to get Covington the next title shot ahead of Masvidal and said Masvidal would be offered a different fight, which also wouldn’t be with Conor McGregor.

Judging purely on record, the edge goes to Covington. He’s now 15-1. Masvidal is 34-13. Covington had interim title status, and has wins over Demian Maia, Dong Hyun Kim, Lawler and Rafael dos Anjos in recent fights. His only loss was to Warlley Alves in 2015. During the same period, Masvidal has losses to Maia, Lorenz Larkin and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. His biggest wins have been over Askren, Donald Cerrone and Darren Till.

Covington also got unique publicity on Saturday, the phone call from President Trump, the two Trump sons at ringside, and his Kurt Angle inspired ring entrance. He came out with the entire building loudly chanting “You suck,” creating an electric atmosphere and making him seem like a superstar.

Covington, who learned pro wrestling years ago being part of a multi-week television angle on Impact Wrestling in 2017, has become a big talker, like a Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor, but without their delivery or charm. Still, the fact he would say anything for attention, even making a joke about Matt Hughes’ condition, shows no depths he won’t go. While Sonnen often made tasteless remarks, his charm and delivery made you know it was all tongue-in-cheek and meant for entertainment, even if it often, as was the goal, led to serious controversy . Covington can’t pull the same type of remarks off with the idea he’s playing bad guy to entertain you.

Still, this is the UFC. In the end, they are going to pick contenders based on the fights they think the people want to pay to see and by who is winning their fights. And Covington is winning his fights.

For all his publicity, the $689,778 gate drawn by Covington vs. Lawler was very weak for a building like the Prudential Center. The idea is that the talk is supposed to lead you to pay money for tickets to see you get beat. That didn’t happen here.

Masvidal has never been put in that type of position. Most of his big fights haven’t been those that carried the card. His last main event was with Till in London, a far better city for a UFC live event to draw than Newark. And it was Till as the local star largely responsible for the sellout and $2.4 million gate.

But in comparing Google searches, probably the closest measure of interest and drawing power, it leads strongly in favor of Masvidal, even with the Trump connection this past week. Over the last 90 days, Masvidal searches were triple that of Covington, and he had the edge in all 50 states.

Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday’s show.

COLBY COVINGTON - Covington was clearly the star of the show, and a title shot with Usman (15-1) looks to be happening next. That leaves people like Masvidal, Tyron Woodley, and the winner of the Aug. 17 fight with Anthony Pettis (22-8) vs. Nate Diaz (19-11), to sort out what happens from there.

ROBBIE LAWLER - Lawler (28-14, 1 no-contest) is at that point in his career when you start questioning how long he should go. He’s 37, and more, he’s been fighting for more than 18 years, so he’s got a lot of mileage. He didn’t look good on Saturday and it was his third loss in row. He’s had previous down periods that he’s come back strong from. He was written off by many in 2012, and at the end of 2014, he beat Johny Hendricks to win the UFC welterweight title and then retained it twice. But it’s been two years since he’s looked good in a fight, and with this loss, is a long way away from being a challenger in a deep division. Because of his history of great fights and name value, I can’t see UFC cutting him, but he desperately needs a win. A next opponent could be the winner of the Mike Perry (13-4) fight with Vicente Luque (16-6-1) this coming Saturday in Montevideo, Uruguay.

JIM MILLER - Miller (31-13, 1 no contest), scored his 20th UFC win with his 58-second submission win over Clay Guida. The win puts Miller in a tie with Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping with 20 UFC wins, third on the all-time list behind Maia (21) and Cerrone (23).

After a rough couple of years, between family tragedies and trying to fight at the top level while also battling health issues, Miller has survived in a deep division in an unforgiving sport. A good next opponent would be Francisco Trinaldo (23-7), who lost a decision to Anthony Hernandez in San Antonio that most feel he should have won.

CLAY GUIDA - Another fighter with a long career, Guida (35-19) going down so quickly leaves him as just a 37-year-old guy in a lighter division who has a name. A good next opponent for him would be Rustam Khabilov (23-4).

ANTONINA SHEVCHENKO - The sister of champion Valentina Shevchenko moved to 8-1 with a second-round choke win over Lucie Pudilova. Lauren Murphy (11-4), who defeated Mara Romero Borella two fights earlier would make sense as a next opponent.