Plenty of UFC fights come loaded with trash talk nowadays – fighters who are capable of it have realised it gives them a ticket to financial success if they can back it up with results in the Octagon. Kamaru Usman VS Colby Covington for the middleweight title was no different, with the reigning champion Usman speaking of his desire to ‘really hurt’ Covington when they fought. But this one had a new element – the trash talk became highly politically charged.
Covington has made a name for himself in the promotion as the ‘heel’ – someone who systematically badmouths all his opponents and says the most provocative and offensive things he can. He is the favoured fighter of Donald Trump, wears a MAGA hat to all conferences, and describes opponents of Trumpism as ‘losers’. He has called Brazilian former champion Fabricio Werdum a faggot, and mocked the Nigerian background of Usman in the weeks before the fight. In the pre-fight weigh-ins, Covington came in his signature MAGA hat, and Usman came with the colours of the Nigerian flag painted over his face.
The fight itself was predicted by UFC legend Chael Sonnen to be a dead heat – the two fighters have practically identical skill sets and fighting records. Both were 15-1 going in, both hadn’t lost a round since, both are primarily wrestlers who like to fight with constant, smothering pressure, and are noted for their incredible cardio – neither man ever seems even close to slowing own. This played out in the fight itself interestingly; neither used their wrestling at any point, knowing it would be a big expenditure of energy and would likely be negated by the other. Instead we got a 5 round striking war, where neither man tired. The fight was utterly close, every round. Covington landed with greater volume, as he tends to do, but the harder shots came from Usman. Usman at times seemed to be getting some success with some hard hooks to the body, at one point making Covington actually grasp at his stomach in pain, but no sooner did it look like the momentum was shifting than Covington would snap back with a jab that stunned Usman, even slightly wobbled him.
It was a fight that could so easily have gone either way, but in the end there was a game-changing straight right from Usman that literally broke Covington’s jaw as he was caught side-on. To Covington’s credit he fought on as though nothing had happened for another round and looked threatening, but once Usman connected there again he landed two knockdowns in quick succession and got the TKO.
Covington is a complex character; his right-wing persona is by his own admission an invention, and most followers of the UFC are aware of it. In the occasional moments he’s caught on camera unaware, he’s nothing like his character. He adopted it only because the promotion was going to drop him on account of having a boring fighting style, despite his impeccable record of wins.
Nonetheless it was impossible not to back Usman, the Nigerian-born immigrant, against someone who publicly praises Donald Trump at every opportunity and weaponises bigotry as a tool to make money. As referee Marc Goddard dived in to stop the rain of Usman’s hammer-fists, I punched the air and grinned.