To the ire of many fans, Colby Covington rolled through Robbie Lawler with little effort. Through varied striking and smothering wrestling, Covington sealed his seventh consecutive win in the Octagon. And as abrasive as the American Top Team product can be, his sweep of Lawler taught us a few very important things.
Colby Covington deserves a title shot
I despise loudmouths who can use their promotional value to talk their way into big fights. So understand how much it pains me to say that Covington may be the second-best welterweight in the UFC.
That’s ahead of fighters like Jorge Masvidal, who gave Ben Askren his only career loss. Or Leon Edwards who capped an eight-fight win streak with a dissection of Rafael Dos Anjos. And while Tyron Woodley is a more explosive athlete and harder hitter, Covington has the deeper gas tank and paces himself better. Only Kamaru Usman can claim to be objectively superior to Covington, and he’s a honey badger in disguise.
His wrestling pressure is direct and smothering, reminiscent of a prime Chael Sonnen. But unlike Sonnen, Covington possesses functional boxing as showed by the uppercut that split Lawler’s guard. His body kick won’t make highlight reels, but it stings and his grappling makes fighters wary of closing in. In fact, it’s hard to think of any current welterweight that wouldn’t have some trouble stopping his double leg against the fence.
Robbie Lawler is getting old
After fighting outside the UFC for several years as a middleweight, Lawler came back in 2013 as a noticeably better welterweight. While retaining his younger savagery, new Lawler was also a cerebral counter boxer. Despite having average hand speed, his smooth delivery let him connect with shocking power on a regular basis. Not only did he improve his takedown defense, but he also showed a remarkable ability to nullify opponents’ offense from guard.
Think about Lawler’s run to the title and ask yourself this: is Colby Covington the best wrestler/striker hybrid he’s faced? Over a juiced-up Johny Hendricks who could actually manage his weight? Or the incredibly tough and technical Rory MacDonald?
Not even close.
The Lawler who rolled with Hendricks’ best shots while returning fire is a far cry from the man who almost cowered against Covington’s volume punching. Or the guy who let both Hendricks and MacDonald tire themselves shooting for takedown after takedown. We knew Lawler wasn’t championship caliber anymore, but it might be time to admit that he has nothing left for the elite.
Welterweight is the land of the wrestlers
Great wrestlers aren’t unique to welterweight (see Henry Cejudo, Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, etc.). What sets welterweight apart is the sheer density of top-tier wrestlers.
The top three in the UFC rankings are Kamaru Usman, Tyron Woodley, and Colby Covington. That’s an absolute murderer’s row of championship-caliber wrestling. Would you like explosive power, tiring aggression, or a combination of the three? Lucky for you, the best welterweights can provide it all!
After them, the weakest wrestler in the UFC welterweight top five is Leon Edwards. And Edwards can grapple, he just chooses not to because of his smooth striking and footwork. Rafael Dos Anjos submitted Kevin Lee, and Jorge Masvidal is a dog who is happy to drag a fight to the mat if that’s what it takes.
Despite the superstar status of fighters like Georges St-Pierre, wrestlers are a nightmare for the UFC brass. The average viewer prefers striking to grappling and wrestlers can slow a fight’s pace to a crawl. There’s a reason Conor McGregor’s path to the featherweight belt (and return) avoided Frankie Edgar.
And yet, the brass doesn’t have a choice. Darren Till may have avoided wrestlers up until Woodley, but the ranks are so dense with them now that the next Till won’t get the chance. The next welterweight challenger needs exceptional takedown defense or be a wrestler themselves.
Whatever your feelings about Covington, there is no doubt that he’s the rightful challenger to Usman. And Robbie Lawler either needs to retire or be put against a striker so he can have fun in his twilight. So let’s anticipate this newest title match while pondering what kind of grappling beast is needed to threaten the title.