It’s indisputable that Colby Covington’s tactic to be hugely outspoken, crude and obnoxious has worked. He’s fighting for the interim welterweight title on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 225 against Rafael dos Anjos at the United Center in Chicago.
At one stage, Covington was best known as ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ college roommate. That is, until he decided to follow the path first set in 2009 by Chael Sonnen, and later by Conor McGregor. Speak louder than anyone, hurl insults at everyone and be crazier than the most obnoxious shock jock.
In the last month alone, Covington posted an image of UFC welterweight Darren Till as the Pillsbury Doughboy, referred to ex-heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum as a slime bag and a filthy animal and called Mackenize Dern a slob and posted an image of her as Miss Piggy.
He’s 7-1 in the UFC with only two victories over ranked opponents, yet he finds himself in a title fight nonetheless. That should send a message to many of his peers, that being an over-the-top trash-talker can be as good a route to the top in the UFC as beating the best in a division.
Dos Anjos is the antithesis of Covington, a soft-spoken man who never gets too worked up and who prefers to let the results in the cage speak for him.
“It’s OK and I’m not bothered by that talking,” dos Anjos said. “Whenever I meet a Brazilian, they’re always upset because of the way he’s talked about our country. They tell me, ‘Kill this guy,’ and ‘Beat him worse than you’ve ever beaten anyone.’ They’re taking it personally because of what he said. But I don’t take it personally. I know it’s an act.”
Dos Anjos held the UFC’s lightweight title for 15 months before getting stopped by Eddie Alvarez on July 7, 2016. He’d outgrown the division and now looks like a different fighter at welterweight.
His career arc at welterweight is showing a lot of similarities to what he did at lightweight. He made his UFC debut as a lightweight at UFC 91 on Nov. 15, 2008. He lost his first two UFC bouts and was 4-4 in his first eight before turning things around.
He won five in a row, dropped a decision to Khabib Nurmagomedov – now the lightweight champion – and then won another five in a row including a dominating win over Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 to win the lightweight belt and a 66-second TKO of Donald Cerrone in his first title defense.
He was 10-1 in 11 bouts after that .500 start and looking like a superstar-in-the-making.
But he lost to Alvarez and then to Tony Ferguson, before abandoning lightweight in favor of welterweight. And since then, he’s scored impressive wins over Robbie Lawler, Neil Magny and Tarec Saffiedine that have led him to the interim title bout with Covington.
Though Covington has turned up the heat on him trash-talk wise, dos Anjos laughs it off.
“You know, I don’t have to get mad and I have too much experience to fall for that stuff,” he said. “But you know what? I get to punch him in the face and so when it’s just the two of us in there, then we’ll see what he has to say.”
It’s not fair to characterize Covington as just a talker, because he’s 7-1 in the UFC and 13-1 overall. He simply hasn’t faced the kind of opposition that dos Anjos has.
That makes a difference, dos Anjos said, in the dark moments every fighter inevitably faces in a fight.
“This is a sport where doubt is your enemy,” dos Anjos said. “You have to believe in yourself and have confidence in yourself and your game plan. I have the experience of having been in the UFC a long time and I’ve fought a lot of the best fighters in the world. I fought all types of fighters and I know what to expect.
“That isn’t something you can get in the gym. You can only get that by fighting and it’s something I know I have I can draw upon.”
The winner of the bout almost certainly will wind up meeting regular champion Tyron Woodley, who has recovered from a shoulder injury and is ready to return to competition.
For dos Anjos, there won’t be any sort of vindication of shutting Covington up or winning an interim belt.
“It is great to be recognized [with an interim title], but you want to beat the guy who won it and that is [Woodley],” dos Anjos said. “But it’s a great accomplishment no matter what. He talks and does all these things, but Colby is a great fighter. He went in there and beat Demian Maia, so that says a lot about him and the kind of fighter he is. I’ll be happy when I win because of that, not because of what he said. He’s just trying to promote himself and to sell tickets, and that’s OK. But anytime you beat a fighter who has done what he has, you are proud of that and consider it an accomplishment.”
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