Colby Covington proudly represented the American Top Team flag all the way up to winning the UFC interim welterweight belt, and now enters the octagon for the first time with a new team behind him. “Chaos” confirmed he split with ATT back in May, joining Florida’s MMA Masters to train with head coaches Daniel Valverde and Cesar Carneiro.
Covington’s first bout since switching homes takes place Saturday night in Las Vegas, when he headlines UFC Vegas 11 opposite longtime rival Tyron Woodley. Valverde—a black belt in judo and jiu-jitsu who has run MMA Masters for more than a decade alongside Carneiro—has known Covington for years before Covington reached out about joining his team.
“We’ve followed Colby’s MMA career since the beginning and we’ve always had a great relationship,” Valverde said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “He got in touch with us [after leaving ATT] and asked if he could visit the gym to check it out and train there. He loved the team and is 200 percent on board with us.”
Partnering with two Brazilians might seem an odd choice for Covington after his constant verbal attacks directed at the South American country in the past. That idea never crossed Valverde’s mind, however, since “we’ve already known Colby and we know that he’s another person off-camera, he’s just acting there.”
“Working with Colby has been great,” Valverde said. “He’s very respectful, he’s a soldier. He’ll do everything you tell him to do without asking. ‘Do this kick, 100 times,’ and he’ll do it. ‘What do you want me to do today, coach?’ ‘I want you to do this and that.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ He’s a wonderful guy to work with. … We have many Brazilians working with us and everybody loves the guy.”
Covington vs. Woodley has been teased for years in the UFC but never came to fruition for various reasons. It’s finally going down Saturday, and the stakes are high despite the fact that both welterweights are coming off losses.
“Chaos” hasn’t competed since losing to 170-pound champion Kamaru Usman via fifth-round TKO back in December, snapping a seven-fight win streak that included victories over Robbie Lawler, Rafael dos Anjos and Demian Maia. “The Chosen One” - who also went undefeated in seven straight bouts before losing his belt to Usman - dropped a one-sided decision to Gilbert Burns in May.
“It was a very close fight with Kamaru and he’s made some mistakes that we are fixing in case he fights Kamaru again, mistakes he can’t make,” Valverde said. “He’s very excited to fight Tyron Woodley now. That’s a fight he’s always wanted — he didn’t want it to happen with both coming off losses, but let’s do it. Tyron Woodley is still ranked No. 5 and we know that a good wins gets us in a good position for a title shot.”
Covington “truly is a super athlete and is super smart,” Valverde said, and has added new weapons to his arsenal since joining the MMA Masters stable earlier this year. “He has great wrestling, and I’ve added some judo techniques to his game since I’m a judoka. He took people down but didn’t have much control on the ground, didn’t use much of jiu-jitsu, taking people’s back and controlling better, blocking punches and moving more.”
Both Covington and Woodley are both decorated wrestlers and this type of matchup sometimes results in standup contests in the octagon. That said, Valverde believes “Colby has to use his wrestling and mix it with his striking.”
“Colby is a cardio machine, he never gets tired, so that’s an advantage he has,” Valverde said. “I think Colby has to use that that instead of just focusing on one thing, striking or wrestling. This is MMA and he has to use all weapons, and Colby has great kicks. He started with karate before moving to wrestling, so he has great kicks, a great striking game.”
The former UFC titleholders will collide in a five-round contest at the UFC Apex, but Covington’s head coach doesn’t expect it to go 25 minutes.
“We’re obviously expecting the best Tyron Woodley, we’re training for that Tyron Woodley that was the champion,” he said, “But, from what I’ve seen from Colby in the gym, how happy he is to get to the gym and learn new things to add to his game, and the fact that I don’t expect Tyron Woodley to change that much… I believe Tyron Woodley will do what he always does and Colby will be prepared for every situation.
“I believe in a TKO finish, or maybe a submission. Anything can happen. Colby is prepared to finish this fight in all areas.”