On his You’re Welcome! podcast, Sonnen broke down this past Saturday’s UFC 272 main event, which saw Covington score a commanding unanimous decision win over Masvidal. Much was made of how the hated rivals once trained closely together at American Top Team in Florida, a factor that Sonnen believes led to there being a few tentative moments in the fight.
“Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal, can we agree, can we at least agree that neither guy looked their best,” Sonnen said. “And I’ll tell you why that is and it’s a deeper piece of psychology that one would really have to study, but historically speaking, when somebody knows his opponent and vise-a-versa — and this can be any sport — when Brady leaves the Patriots and goes to the Buccaneers and the Buccaneers return to New England, well we know him and we know what the plays are and that goes on both sides and I know how the defense is gonna be ran. It ends up with a reactive mindset as opposed to proactive.
“I’m talking about defense as opposed to offense. Anytime somebody knows their opponent it flips a switch inside and it’s never ‘I know how to attack him. I know what his openings are so I can go after him.’ It’s always ‘I know what he’s gonna do so I know how to block.’ Always. It just does something to the athlete’s mindset. Whenever we see two guys who know each other, where the mask is off, there’s no allure, there’s no illusions, there’s no mystery, guys shut down as opposed to go forward.”
For the the most part, it was Covington pushing the action as he consistently used volume striking to push Masvidal back and then wrestling to take Masvidal down. As the bout progressed, it appeared that Covington was pulling away on the scorecards and he eventually went on to take the decision with scores of 49-46, 50-44, and 50-45.
Sonnen thinks that the familiarity helped both fighters emphasize avoiding damage as opposed to dishing it out.
“I knew going into this fight just because I’ve seen it so many times, both of these guys were going to underperform,” Sonnen said. “And one degree they did, neither one of them brought their best offense. In fairness, both of them brought some pretty g****** good defense, they did know each other, they did know what to look for.
“You didn’t see any broken noses and swollen eyes, you didn’t see knockdowns and trading it back and forth, they did know each other.”
Sonnen went on to say that Masvidal actually did well with his takedown defense early in the fight, to the point that Covington looked frustrated and had to slow down his offense to change the pace of the fight. Once Covington found a way to reserve his energy while still remaining on the offensive, Sonnen knew he had the fight in the bag.
There was one scary moment for Covington in Round 4 as Masvidal wobbled him with a hard punch, only for Covington to avoid any further damage. Sonnen had an explanation for Masvidal not capitalizing on that moment.
“Now when we do get to the fourth round, Masvidal was still being defensive,” Sonnen said. “I know Masvidal got that big shot. One thing about Masvidal when he got that big shot, it reminded me of the fifth round of Nate Diaz vs. Leon Edwards because Jorge got him, but Jorge didn’t follow up. Now you have a question as to why.
“You could default to because he didn’t know how bad he had him hurt and Colby was hurt badly and Colby was hurt for a long time. It was 20 seconds before Colby was back. They had to go in between rounds, get help from the corner, get that minute off before Colby had his full feet back. The other piece of that is I don’t think that Masvidal had the energy at that point. When you have someone laying on top of you, Colby is doing the same thing that Jorge is doing, they’re doing the same thing, they’re in the exact same position, but Jorge has Colby on top of him. So they’re doing the exact same thing but Jorge has 180 pounds on top of him. You get it, it’s very basic.”
Despite his criticism of the main event’s entertainment value, Sonnen praised Covington and Masvidal for their toughness. In particular, he appreciated that Masvidal did not look to find a way out of the fight even when it became clear that a win on the scorecards was no longer possible.
“I respected how much Masvidal stayed in there,” Sonnen said. “You’ve got a guy on your back, you’re down four rounds, there’s no way for you to win this fight, this is over, you’re not going to win the fight, but you stay in there anyway. The rear-naked choke — as effective of a move as that looks to you guys — the rear-naked choke hardly ever works. That is the sign between two athletes, ‘I’m gonna give you my back. Don’t punch me, put the choke in, make it look good and I’ll tap out.’ That’s exactly where Colby had him and Masvidal refused.
“As tired as Masvidal was, as exhausted as he was, and we know he was because he hurt Colby and he didn’t follow up, that speaks and shows you without a question he doesn’t have the kind of energy that he wanted to have. He still wouldn’t quit. Jorge Masvidal woke up the second-biggest draw in the sport the day of that fight and the ‘BMF’ champion. Jorge Masvidal wakes up today the second-biggest draw on Earth and the BMF champion. I thought that Masvidal served himself very well.”