Former interim UFC welterweight champion Colby Covington said he was in the “red zone” for a long-anticipated fight with ex-champ Tyron Woodley on Saturday, only to see the matchup fall apart at the last second.
”Both sides were agreeing,” Covington told MMA Fighting just moments after the UFC announced it had indefinitely postponed its next three events. “Tyron Woodley’s never accepted a fight with me. For the first time ever, he’s finally agreed to fight me, and it was about to happen for the people, and all of a sudden, the plug got pulled, and they couldn’t find anywhere to do the fight.”
Covington said the promotion hoped to promote the event on an Indian reservation in either Southern California or Alabama before calling it off. Woodley’s rep and the UFC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UFC President Dana White said it was the government – not the location – that scuttled the event. On Monday, he told ESPN the event on Saturday, originally set for The O2 in London, was set to take place at Fire Lake Arena in Shawnee, Okla. But everything changed when president Donald Trump recommended canceling gatherings with more than 10 people due to the fast-spreading COVID-19 virus.
In an email to employees and fighters, White wrote that new travel restrictions made it impossible to continue the promotion’s event schedule.
”I don’t think it was the right move,” Covington said. “I think we’re healthy, young professional athletes. We already do something that’s dangerous enough as it is, getting locked into an octagon and fighting each other, so what’s more dangerous than a little flu that’s going on right now? I think people just need to be more aware of what’s going on, wash their hands, social distancing, this and that. But as professional athletes, we already risk enough as it is.
”I had a fan reach out to me from China, and they were like, ‘We just had to stay in our houses for 30 days, pretty much quarantined, and after that, there haven’t been any new cases for over one month, and everything’s under control.’ I think everybody’s kind of panicking and acting irrationally, and we just need to realize that everything’s under control, and America, the greatest country in the world, is going to be OK, and things will go back to normal.”
Sporting leagues and state athletic commissions around the country have canceled events due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, which has infected over 100,000 people and killed over 6,500 worldwide. But Covington’s opinion is echoed by several fighters scheduled for the ill-fated cards that wished to realize a long training camp, a payday, or a chance to entertain fans.
It’s unclear whether those scheduled for Saturday’s card will be compensated, though the promotion is under no legal obligation to do so. Several managers and fighters who spoke to MMA Fighting expected there wouldn’t be any pay for the postponement.
For Covington, the possible booking was a chance to steal the spotlight. Four months after a failed bid for the welterweight title against Kamaru Usman, he stood to revive his career and settle a long-simmering rivalry that began when he became one of the sport’s most polarizing characters. He was forced to withdraw from a scheduled title fight against Woodley at UFC 228 due to a nasal surgery, then several subsequent bookings fell apart.
”I was excited to shock the world,” he said. “I’ve been keeping my business on the low, but I was ready to pounce. It sucks that that opportunity is getting taken away from me. I’m heartbroken.”
Covington said he will continue to train at the famed American Top Team, which at this point remains open to pro MMA fighter and coaches, and hopes the UFC will book him a rematch with Usman.
”That definitely takes priority over Woodley,” he said.
After White’s announcement, Woodley said he’d agreed to fight Gilbert Burns, who won this past Saturday at UFC Brasilia, before the event was postponed. He added he wanted to fight Covington, whom he said ducked him after volunteering to fight, in his next octagon outing.
Covington said it’s impossible to predict what will happen next. But he’ll be around just in case another big opportunity arises.
”I’m going to keep being the blue-collar hard worker that I am and just keep working every day,” he said. “I’m the best in the world. I do the best numbers in the world for this company, so I’m just going to stay ready for every moment.”
The fighter known for some of the most divisive rhetoric in the sport also called for civility as the country reels from the effects of COVID-19.
”This is the greatest country in the world,” he said. “So I want to see us come together as one and understand this isn’t left our right. This isn’t political. This is the world and the nation needing to come together. We need to put our differences aside, and people need to look out for each other. Let’s get America back to normal as soon as possible.”