Looking too far into the future is never a good thing for a prizefighter. But as he finished making the media rounds in New York City this week, Colby Covington couldn’t help but formulate a plan should he defeat Robbie Lawler in the UFC Fight Night on ESPN main event in Newark on Saturday.
“They gotta give me that undisputed title shot in MSG in November or whenever (UFC welterweight champion Kamaru) Usman’s gonna be ready,” said Covington. “I can’t be denied after this weekend.”
The Garden. The Big Apple. Usman vs. Covington. “Chaos” likes the sound of it all.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “Ever since I was a little kid, Hulkamania started in Madison Square Garden, Muhammad Ali used to fight there, all the big fighters, all the big concerts, all the big basketball games, that’s the world’s greatest arena. So for me to go cement my legacy there would be a dream come true and I feel like I can seize that opportunity this weekend.”
It’s been a long time to get to this weekend for Covington, who has been on the sidelines since he defeated Rafael Dos Anjos in June 2018. That victory made it six in a row for the Floridian and garnered him the interim UFC welterweight title, but injuries kept him out of action and saw his title get stripped as the belt then changed hands from Tyron Woodley to Kamaru Usman. That’s quite a year for someone who didn’t even get to step into the Octagon.
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“I definitely take a lot away from the last year,” Covington said. “It made me feel how much I missed and loved MMA and competing at the highest level and just proving people wrong. And there’s only one way I can do that, and that’s by getting into the UFC Octagon. So it’s been a very developmental and evolving year for me, and I feel like I’m better from it and I learned a lot from my experiences, and I’m not gonna make those same mistakes again.”
A 14-1 pro record with nine UFC wins, six of them in row, and there are still doubters?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I see a lot of people that think Robbie Lawler’s gonna leave me unconscious this weekend, so that’s why I’m back. And what better way to come back than to fight a guy like that and prove everybody wrong and show everybody my worth. That’s ultimately what this is about; it’s about showing the UFC how valuable I am and I’m always ready to go.”
If anything, despite losing his interim title and sitting out for an extended stretch, it’s still almost mission accomplished for Covington, who went from being just another talented prospect to a contender with both a diehard fan base and an equally vocal bandwagon of detractors thanks to a polarizing image and plenty of trash talk directed at his peers over the last few years. Covington says the job’s not done yet.
“No, not yet,” he said. “I have a lot of unfinished business and I’m not gonna be satisfied until I take care of that. My biggest thing that I wanted to do is really take that turn in my career and show the UFC my worth as a self-marketer and a self-promoter. I wanted to show them that I didn’t need them to build me up; I was gonna show my value and that I’m an asset to them by what I’ve done stealing headlines and making sure they know it’s UFC champion Colby next to it. There are a lot of people that love me now, and I’ve never had people that appreciated me. But there’s also even more people that hate me, but those same people are gonna tune in because they want to see me lose. So I’ve done a good job, but the job’s not finished.”
It's likely won’t be until he gets his shot at the undisputed title and wins it. But in the meantime, there’s the business of fighting Lawler, a former American Top Team squadmate and a longtime training partner.
“We used to train together all the time,” said Covington of Lawler. “When he was getting ready for Johny Hendricks, he needed a southpaw wrestler and that’s exactly what I am, so I helped him for both Hendricks fights, I helped him for the Rory MacDonald fight and we trained a lot together. I built him back up and I gotta take a lot of credit for what he did because he came to us at American Top Team a broken man. He started training with me every day and then all of a sudden he went on a great winning streak and went on to legendary status. He wouldn’t have done that without us at American Top Team, and more importantly, I was his main training partner. So I felt like he turned his back on us and he turned his back on me, so that’s why this fight is very personal to me.”
Lawler, as is his custom, chooses not to fire back or get into a war of words with his former teammate. “Ruthless” tends to let his fists do the talking for him, and Covington has likely tasted that power before. But with the two several years removed from their sparring sessions, is there anything to be applied to their fight this weekend?
“I don’t really take away too much from that,” said Covington. “It doesn’t apply. It was a different time in our life, and more importantly, we were going with 16-ounce gloves, and when we fight this weekend, it’s going to be with four-ounce gloves, so if you make a mistake in the gym, you’re not gonna pay for it like you will if you make a mistake in the UFC Octagon. So I don’t take too much away from those training sessions. I’m just focused on the best Robbie Lawler on August 3rd.”
As for August 4th?
“They gotta let me unify my title,” he said. “They’ve seen that I’ve won a title, no one beat me for that title, then I’m gonna go out there and go fight the last real champion the division’s had in Robbie Lawler, a legend in the game and probably the biggest name in the division. I go out there and put on a nice, exciting fight and finish Robbie Lawler, there’s no way I can be denied.”