Leon Edwards’ longtime coach Dave Lovell watched his fighter grind for the better part of six years before finally earning his first UFC title shot off an 11-fight unbeaten streak.
So when he sees Colby Covington waltz back into the picture after going missing for a year and nab the next shot at Edwards’ welterweight strap off of one win, he can’t help but agree with the reigning UFC champ that something is amiss at 170 pounds.
“It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t fit right with me,” Lovell said Wednesday on The MMA Hour when asked about Covington’s status. “At the end of the day, Leon is the boss, and if he decides to go for it for whatever reason, then we do what the boss says. But at the same time, me, as a coach looking in, it doesn’t fit well with me. Why should Colby get a chance?
“He’s had three bites of the cherry now. This will make his third, should he get it. He’s been out for how long? We’ll just say a year. He’s coming off a win off [Jorge] Masvidal, but prior to that he got stopped twice by [Kamaru] Usman, bashed him up twice.
“What justifies him really to jump the queue and get a fight when you’ve got [Gilbert] Burns and our archrival, Mr. Masvidal, fighting soon? Technically, we should take the winner of that. Obviously I’d like it to be Masvidal, because it’s not only a good fight, there’s personal s*** to be sorted. But should Burns win, it’d be justified if Burns just being in the top 5 gets a second bite of the cherry, because all the rest of them have.”
Edwards, 31, made the first successful defense of his UFC welterweight title this past Saturday at UFC 286 in London, edging out Kamaru Usman via majority decision in a trilogy match. It was the second of back-to-back victories over the former pound-for-pound king for Edwards following his iconic fifth-round head-kick knockout of Usman at UFC 278, which stands as one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history.
After the event, UFC President Dana White stunned not only fans and media by declaring Covington as the unequivocal next in line, but also Edwards himself.
Covington holds just a 2-2 record since September 2019 and lost a pair of title bouts against Usman. His lone wins over that stretch have come against Tyron Woodley and Masvidal.
It’s a résumé that pales in comparison to some of the more active contenders at 170 pounds, most notably Belal Muhammad, who is undefeated in nine consecutive bouts dating back to early 2019 and who has competed six times over the past two years.
But like White, Lovell isn’t too sold on Muhammad either. When asked about Muhammad’s case for a title shot, the British coach pointed back to Muhammad’s March 2021 battle against Edwards that ended in a no contest due to an accidental eye poke just 18 seconds into the second round. Lovell believes Muhammad was trying to game the system.
“I think when you say an eye poke, it wasn’t an actual eye poke,” Lovell said. “It was, if you watch it, there was a fight [over the] weekend [Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev] — did you see where Gaethje pulled his eye forward and his skin forward? Have you seen that? Well that’s what happened with Belal, because Belal was rolling around the floor crying, and there was blood coming, but it was from that skin that’s under your eye, the under your eye [skin] here. After the fight he received no treatment for any eye injury, he didn’t go to the hospital for, if it was the eyeball, if he had sustained damage to his eyeball.
“There was no form of damage to his eyeball. It was just a little nick. Rocky’s nail caught the skin under his eye. So as far as Mr. Belal getting a no contest on that, that was questionable for me. At first everybody thought it was a real nasty eye poke, because we had one in the first round, at the end of the first round. So he doesn’t deserve a title shot. But listen, Leon said he’d done it the hard way, he went around the world chasing these titles and fighting who they threw at him. And well, you know what? Then let Belal do that, and then if he works his way to the title, to number two, then if he’s entitled to it, then so be it.”
Ultimately, both Lovell and Edwards have publicly stated their belief that the most logical next title challenger should be the winner of UFC 287’s co-main event battle Masivdal and Burns, which takes place April 8 in Miami. Edwards and Masvidal have history together dating back to their infamous “three-piece with a soda” incident in March 2019, while Burns has picked up victories over Neil Magny and Stephen Thompson — and also had a Fight of the Year runner-up against Khamzat Chimaev — since his failed title shot in 2021.
Like many, Lovell is baffled by White’s decision to announce Covington as the next contender before even giving Burns vs. Masvidal a chance to play out.
“That’s why, as I say, it doesn’t fit with me,” Lovell said. “It doesn’t taste right with me. We’ll talk about it as a team. We’ll sit down and talk about as a team. Sit down with management as well, the team, and see where we are. Should Dana make any more formal statements about it, then we just take it as it is, but we’re not just going to start worrying and bugging our mind about that. Just let the kid kick back and enjoy his moments for a while. His foot was sore after the fight, you have to take a little time to get back. He just now started weight-bearing back on it. But it is what it is. It is what it is anyway, that’s my take on it.”