The lead-up, what he said and the boss and other fighters’ responses
~Matthew Morhiser, Sports Editor~
On Sep. 19 of this year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held their twenty-first fight card since officially banning the attendance of any fans due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The card was the eleventh event from the UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas, NV since returning after the company’s brief hiatus. The fight card was known as UFC Fight Night 178, UFC on ESPN+ 36 and UFC Vegas 11, but it was most heavily marketed under the title UFC Fight Night: Covington vs. Woodley.
The matchup pitted two top contenders in the company’s Welterweight division against each other. Woodley, who lost the UFC Welterweight Championship on March 2, 2019 to reigning champion Kamaru Usman, was coming off a loss against rising contender Gilbert Burns. In spite of his recent struggles, Woodley was still listed as the no. five ranked Welterweight according to the UFC’s official rankings. Covington, who like Woodley, was coming off a loss as the challenger in a title fight against Usman. Covington lost the fight by technical knockout (TKO), but because he was winning the fight on the judges’ scorecards before Usman finished the fight at four minutes and 10 seconds of the fifth and final round, Covington was still the no. two ranked Welterweight in the company.
The stipulations surrounding the fight were as normal as any other between two top contenders, but the leadup to fight was anything but. At every media event held to garner anticipation for the fight, Woodley wore clothing that vehemently supported the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement. In addition, at an individual press conference for the event, Woodley wore a shirt that said “Black Lives Matter” in block letters and a red hat mimicking the now famous “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hat that instead said “Make Racists Catch The Fade Again.” As the only fighter on the stage, Woodley responded to every question asked of him by saying “black lives matter.”
Woodley’s actions were in direct response to the political leanings of his opponent Covington. Anointing himself as “Donald Trump’s favorite fighter,” Covington has made his political opinions clear through years of donning a MAGA hat and praising the current presidential administration during any and all media appearances. Covington, who is known as a “trash talker” in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), made it clear in a tweet the day of the event he was dedicating the fight to the “brave men and women of Law Enforcement who have been vilified.” However, Covington’s words after the fight have caused even more controversy.
Covington defeated Woodley by TKO at one minute and 19 seconds of the fifth and final round due to a sudden rib injury to Woodley while Covington was in top position on the ground. After being declared the winner, Covington said in his post fight interview that he was “sick of these woke athletes and spineless cowards like LeBron James.” His statement is in regard to James’ support of the BLM organization and support of the recent shootings of African-Americans by police forces. The post fight interview concluded when Covington received a direct call on his cellphone from President Donald Trump.
In the post-fight press conference, Covington said Woodley “was standing up for lifelong criminals” by supporting the BLM movement. Covington would go on to call Woodley a “Communist” and a “Marxist,” and he concluded his statements on his opponent by saying, “he hates America, and that’s why he got broke tonight.” In another interview directly following the post-fight press conference that aired on the ESPN+ platform, Covington was on a live feed with the champion Usman. In reference to the phone call he received from the President, Covington asked Usman, who was born in Benin City, Nigeria, if he got a call from his “little tribe” and if they sent him “smoke signals.”
Covington’s comments after the fight have been panned by some of his fellow fighters in the UFC organization. In response to a question from the media, current Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya said, “This guy [Covington] has directly insulted my culture, my brother and many other cultures, and no one says anything, but it just shows you a mirror. Shows you a mirror to you guys.”
Sijara Eubanks, another UFC fighter who competes in the Women’s Bantamweight division, called the post-fight comments “flat-out racist.” Eubanks would go on to say, “It was quite frankly disappointing, but at the same time, the one thing I appreciate is the UFC lets whoever say whatever.”
Eubanks’ statements were reinforced by the UFC’s President, Dana White, on Sep. twenty-fourth at the UFC 253 pre-fight press conference. White, when asked about Covington’s comments, said, “We don’t muzzle anybody here. We let everyone speak their mind. I don’t know what [Covington] said was racist.”
To this point, the UFC has not taken any actions against Covington for his comments. However, Reebok, the official apparel sponsor of UFC fighters, has distanced themselves from Covington’s statements by saying they don’t agree with his beliefs in an interview with BloodyElbow.com, a site dedicated to MMA and UFC news. While not official, there are rumors Covington has already scheduled a fight against the no. 4 Welterweight contender, Jorge Masvidal. No news has broken on Woodley’s next steps for his career.
UFC rankings, fighter stats and event information obtained from: https://www.ufc.com/
Pre-fight information and fighter quotes obtained from: https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/29954678/black-ufc-athletes-angered-colby-covington-talk
Dana White quote obtained from: https://twitter.com/MMAFighting/status/1309097813477912577?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1309097813477912577%7Ctwgr%5Eshare_3&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fempiresportsmedia.com%2Fmma%2Fufc-president-on-trash-talk-we-dont-muzzle-anybody-here%2F
Post fight quotes obtained from: https://www.mmafighting.com/2019/8/8/20758993/morning-report-colby-covington-ramps-up-the-trash-talk-against-kamaru-usman
Colby Covington’s tweet: https://twitter.com/ColbyCovMMA/status/1307389740606349312Reebok response obtained from: https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2020/9/22/21425012/ufc-news-reebok-reaction-colby-covington-blm-black-lives-matter-tyron-woodley-terrorism-sponsors-mma