On June 9, 2018, Colby Covington became the UFC interim welterweight champion following an impressive unanimous decision win over Rafael dos Anjos.
It followed dominant decision wins over Demian Maia and Dong Hyun Kim, and if he wasn’t a household name at least for the hardcore MMA fan before, he was now.
However, most of all, Covington had finally set up a meeting with then-champion Tyron Woodley. There was clear animosity between the two, as well as an actual storyline. After all, both welterweights were former training partners at American Top Team, now turned bitter rivals.
And after months of ignoring Covington’s social media insults, Woodley was finally receptive to the idea of facing him and delivering a beating. Fans wanted to see it for that reason as well. A title unification clash would have certainly been the most lucrative fight either fighter would have been in.
Things started to unravel, though.
A month after his interim title win, Covington was offered to face Woodley in the main event of UFC 228 in September. The problem was “Chaos” was recovering from a nasal surgery at the time and needed more time off. The UFC was not having it as Darren Till was installed as the next title challenger and Covington was harshly stripped of his interim title.
This was new territory for Covington. He seemingly never had a problem with the UFC before and was now threatening to go to court.
“[Other fights] are possibilities but they want me to go backwards and fight for a fifth of the paycheck they promised me,” Covington said on MMA Junkie Radio. “That ain’t happening. I’m not fighting for a fifth of the paycheck that I was promised and that I’m owed and guaranteed and earned.
“They’re not gonna get anything less out of me. I’ll sit on the shelf all day. We’ll go to court. I’ll make it a living hell for the UFC. I don’t give a sh*t. They’re already trying to make my life a living hell. The business they’re trying to do right now is ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense.”
Luckily for Covington, Woodley remained the champion as he submitted Till in the second round. Their big fight was still on the cards.
The plan was for it to reportedly take place at UFC 233 in January of this year. Covington, who was now 100 percent healthy, was just waiting on Woodley.
“I’m waiting on Tyron,” Covington shared on The MMA Hour. “He’s on borrowed time. He’s the only person I’m fighting. I’m young, the best years are ahead of me. He’s old, he’s at the end of his career. I’m just getting started. I’ve just barely begun this journey, so as long as it takes to fight Tyron Woodley, we have unfinished business.”
Woodley, however, was hesitant to fight as his hand was not at 100 percent following his win over Till. Then, both sides accused the other of ducking each other by not signing a contract. This went on for a while, and in the end, White was fed up and offered a title fight to Kamaru Usman.
Usman was in the mix before and had a rivalry with Covington too, repeatedly calling him out for a fight. However, from Covington’s point of view, there was no need to face someone other than Woodley, especially if they were ranked below him. Usman was also not in White’s good graces but turned things around after his dominant win over Dos Anjos in December, as well as his willingness to face anybody.
As a result, he was rewarded with a title shot against Woodley at UFC 235 in March, skipping over Covington.
In the end, while Colby Covington was ready to go for 235, UFC chose to go with Usman because his stock rose mightily in their eyes after the RDA win + his subsequent willingness to fight anyone on short notice in January despite being injured. Covington held out and it cost him.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) January 6, 2019
To make matters worse, Usman would upset the odds and completely dominate Woodley over five rounds to become the new welterweight champion. Covington was in attendance and would have likely tried to face off with Woodley should the latter have won. So all the work Covington put into building up a grudge match with Woodley went down the drain. Now, he would have to face Usman, who after his performance against Woodley, seemed like an even tougher test.
“It’s very disappointing,” Covington told Bloody Elbow. “I was legitimately almost heartbroken on Saturday night. I was the biggest Woodley fan in the whole arena. I was Team Woodley all night. I wanted him to win. This is the fight that we built up for so many years. There’s not a lot of hype behind Snoozeman. He has manufactured beef, trying to get everybody to think there’s real beef, but there’s no real beef. Me and Tyron had a real f—king beef. We want to kill each other, we want to leave each other unconscious in the Octagon.”
But things were going to get worse later that month. Covington’s friend, teammate and former roommate Jorge Masvidal would spring right back up the rankings following an emphatic knockout of Till at UFC London. “Gamebred” called for a title shot afterward, and many in the combat sports world were receptive to it. Covington notably joined the UFC after Masvidal but would leapfrog him in the rankings to eventually become the interim champion. But now, there seemed to be tension. They were both competing for a title shot against Usman. They haven’t been seen together since, at least on social media.
Still, despite his naysayers, many agreed that Covington deserved to face Usman next. However, the Nigerian native needed surgery after his win over Woodley and there is still no update on his return even at the time of writing. Leading up to UFC 239 this past weekend, White even claimed Covington would be next, only for “Chaos” to later be booked in a welterweight headliner against Robbie Lawler at UFC Newark in August.
While it’s a big fight for Covington, it’s not a title fight. He has more to lose as well given that Lawler is ranked #10 as of now. After the fight announcement, another title challenger hopeful Ben Askren claimed if he beat Masvidal at UFC 239, he would get the next title shot, and Usman even agreed. It seemed like that would be the case too, given how Covington has had nothing go his way in the last year.
Only it was Masvidal who ended up winning with a flying knee knockout that went viral. Once again, he called for a title shot, and given the way he won his last two fights against solid top contenders, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get one.
Not all is lost for Covington, however. Provided Usman is still not 100 percent, he could still consolidate his place as the next title challenger with a decisive win over Lawler. But that would most likely require a finish — while Covington doesn’t necessarily have a boring style of fighting, he hasn’t finished an opponent since 2016, and it will be hard to top Masvidal’s recent finishes. And even if he wins, he may have to face Masvidal. While he is open to that, it’s not ideal, and the reality is he should have fought for the undisputed title ages ago.
Covington previously threatened to sit on the shelf all day, and while for his part, he was looking to get a fight with Woodley made, it’s now been 13 months since he last fought. His fight with Lawler is a huge one for many reasons, and only time will tell if his long absence will eventually pay off or be the worst mistake he could have made.