Covington is widely considered to be one of the top three welterweights in the world but has effectively been stuck in limbo as the rest of the division figures itself out following Leon Edwards’ dramatic come-from-behind win over Kamaru Usman at UFC 278. Most of the major players at 170 pounds are either booked or tentatively set in prospective matchups, however Covington has remained on the sidelines since his decision win over Jorge Masvidal in March — and there’s been few, if any, talks of his potential return.
In the eyes of Chael Sonnen, that’s a crime. But also one with an easy fix.
“Colby Covington is the clearest No. 1 contender that this sport has, but he doesn’t get to fight for the title,” Sonnen said on The MMA Hour.
“Colby is in a unique spot, and he’s not the easiest guy to get in the ring. All of a sudden you need feature matches, it’s got to be a main event. There’s certain things — and in fairness, he deserves them. He deserves them as the No. 1 contender or the former interim champion or the guy who beat the BMF that didn’t get recognized. I think to get Colby, you’re going to have to make that promise [of a title shot being next].
“There is some stuff that has been wildly — I don’t want to say unfair, but very close to that for Colby Covington,” Sonnen continued. “I think you’re going to have to sweeten the pot to get him in there. And there’s not a lot of players left on the board. We’re told that Gilbert Burns is going to be busy with Jorge Masvidal, I know that story goes back and forth. But Belal Muhammad is busy with Sean Brady.
“I just think there’s opportunity right now,” Sonnen concluded. “I think there’s opportunity and guys aren’t seizing it.”
Where that opportunity lies, according to Sonnen, is in the middleweight division.
Sonnen said Covington even approached the UFC with his proposition, but the idea died at the desk of UFC President Dana White because of past remarks made by Covington.
“Colby came out and he was talking to people, he was trying to find himself a fight and he said, ‘I’ll even go down to 155,’” Sonnen said. “Because he said those words, somewhere that planted a seed where Dana goes, ‘OK, he’s not on the big side of ‘70, he’s on the small side of ‘70.’ So when we brought Dana the suggestion of letting your No. 1 contender move up, use that golden ticket but cash it in at middleweight, Dana just wasn’t open to it. He went, ‘Ah, if I move him anywhere, I’m going to move him to ‘55.’
“That was legit. I had spoken to Colby. Colby wanted to go up, use that ticket if you will — which I know is figurative and not a real thing, but he is a No. 1 contender who couldn’t get a championship fight — and use it for Izzy. And it was to the point that Izzy was responding.”
The UFC instead booked Adesanya vs. Cannonier, which resulted in a lopsided win for Adesanya that left the champ under fire about the pace of his recent bouts.
Adesanya is now set to face old rival and former GLORY kickboxing champion Alex Pereira in a highly-anticipated grudge match at UFC 281, which takes place Nov. 12. Pereira previously defeated Adesanya twice in kickboxing and even scored a brutal knockout over Adesanya. The fight is drawing mass interest, however the middleweight division is currently lacking a true No. 1 contender who could step up next if Adesanya wins.
With Edwards and Usman likely expected to tie up the welterweight title for the foreseeable future with a trilogy match, and the majority of the other contenders at 170 pounds already busy elsewhere, Sonnen believes the time is right for the UFC to revisit the idea of Adesanya vs. Covington if “The Last Stylebender” emerges victorious at UFC 281.
“Colby was all for it,” Sonnen said.
“I don’t see anybody [else] positioning themselves for Izzy, largely because they’re all scared of him. Nobody’s positioned for Pereira because they don’t think that he can win. It’s a miss, man. The middleweights are really missing right now.
“It’s just one of these spots, I think that there’s some real misses at middleweight.”