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Colby Covington makes it awfully easy not to like him, but it's impossible to deny his talent | Opinion

Colby Covington is an asshole.

That's according to UFC president Dana White, anyway, who didn't hold back when talking about Covington following his UFC 272 win over bitter rival Jorge Masvidal.

"He's an asshole," White told me at the night's post-event press conference. "Anybody disagree with that? I mean, he would probably even agree with that."

White isn't exactly revealing anything new about Covington (17-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC), or at least the character the 34-year-old former interim champion plays. "Chaos" doesn't seem to recognize any boundaries when it comes to his promotional trashtalk, which only seems to elevate with each additional victory.

After scoring a dominant decision win over Masvidal, Covington immediately turned his attention to another former teammate in Dustin Poirier, suggesting that was the matchup to make moving forward, especially with reigning champion Kamaru Usman still recovering from surgery on his hand.

In typical Covington fashion, the callout came complete with cutting insults that certainly seem to lean well past the line of decency – even in the fight game – disparaging Poirier's wife and suggesting his daughter was actually fathered by Conor McGregor.

"I figure I'll get another tuneup fight with Dustin Poirier, who said it's on sight, you know, and he weighs more than me," Covington told reporters following his win. "He's just a bully who cuts a lot of weight. I don't cut any weight because I know I'm the best in the world, and I don't need to have a weight advantage over anybody. So Dustin, name the site, you know, bring that jezebel of a wife, and bring Conor's little kid, Parker."

Is Covington out of line? In my personal opinion, yes. For me, race, religion and family should be beyond the scope of pre-fight banter. Perhaps that's too conservative of a stance for some, especially given the brutal physical nature of the sport, but I'm not on an island in that sentiment.

"I agree with that, too," White said. "It's called man code. You either have it, or you don't."

But wherever you stand on the suitability of his promotional tactics, it's clear that Covington's strategy is working. Sure, Masvidal's popularity played a factor in the success of UFC 272, as well, but Covington's role in driving interest in the card is undeniable, and White said the financials for the event were among the best in company history.

"The attendance was 19,425. It was a complete sellout," White said. "Gate was $6.76 million, and this is No. 7 all-time here at the arena and No. 14 all-time for the UFC."

Covington seems to feel he's not given enough respect for his work in the octagon, and that's probably a fair claim. He's done such a fine job of creating an incredibly unlikable persona, that I think it's difficult for many to see past the character and evaluate the athlete, alone. But if you can put aside your contempt, his accomplishments are undeniable.

In the past six years, the only man to beat Covington is Usman, who is currently rated as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, according to the UFC's official rankings. Both fights stands among the toughest tests of Usman's unbeaten UFC run.

Covington nearly swept all five rounds against Masvidal at UFC 272, earning a pair of 50-45 cards, as well as one at 49-46, with Junichiro Kamijo giving "Gamebred" just the second frame.

In a 2020 win over former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, Covington was up 40-36 on all three cards before an injury to "The Chosen One" ended the fight in the fifth.

In a 2019 win over former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Covington took every round, even claiming a 10-8 on one judge's tally.

In his infamous 2017 win over future UFC Hall of Famer Demian Maia, Covington traveled to a hostile Brazil and nearly swept the cards, taking home a dominant decision win with scores of 29-27, 30-27 and 30-26.

Add in his 2018 decision win over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos to claim an interim welterweight title that he never actually lost or was given an opportunity to unify with the undisputed title, and Covington's last five wins have come over three former UFC champions, a future Hall of Famer and the "BMF" titleholder.

Covington's past two fights have given me a very unique perspective into his work on the microphone. After interviewing Covington for more than seven years – including, among others, at his UFC debut in Macau, in his Sao Paulo hotel room in Brazil shortly after security rushed him out the venue while he was being pelted with debris, and a sitdown prior to his interim title win in Chicago – he's now refusing to answer my questions. Why? I'm not exactly sure, to be honest.

As best I can tell, he seems to believe I said he wasn't deserving of a title shot. 

After declining to answer my questions at Saturday's event, he was then immediately asked a question by reporter Helen Yee, to which Covington replied, "Good, a real journalist who doesn't write with their feelings and talks about fighters not being deserving."

He said something similar the first time he declined to answer my question this past November, at a press conference prior to UFC 268, where his "push-ups" bit was born.

"John, you were getting real slick with me yesterday," Covington said. "You're a clickbait merchant. You were saying I was undeserving and didn't deserve to be up here. Well guess what? You're undeserving at getting an answer from me. If you want an answer from me, get down and give me 10 push-ups right now. Get on your hands and knees. What! You want a question? Ten push-ups, flabby butt!"

At the time, I actually laughed pretty heartily, assuming it was just my turn to be the target for Covington's relentless barrage of verbal attacks. Now, I honestly have no idea if he's being serious or just refusing to break character in front of the cameras. I guess I wonder if Covington even knows which of those scenarios is true?

For the record, I honestly don't believe I ever made such a comment, but here we are.

After each interaction I've had with Covington, my social media gets bombarded by people demanding me to give them 10 push-ups, and echoing the "flabby butt" call. If I'm being honest, it's incredibly annoying. Still, throughout the buildup to UFC 272, when anyone asked my honest assessment of the matchup, I remained steadfast that I favored Covington to win by decision based on his superior grappling, unmatched pace and unrelenting pressure.

Making a firm distinction between what Covington says in front of a camera with what he's capable of doing in a cage is incredibly important if you're trying to give a proper evaluation of his skills or his standing in the UFC's welterweight title picture.

Even Usman, who has twice endured the baggage that comes along with facing Covington, admits a third fight between them could possibly be on the horizon.

"Potentially," Usman told me on Friday. "If Covington can go out there and make a case for himself and go out and continue to beat whoever is next, then down the line, that could be another one."

In short, you don't have to like Covington. Truthfully, he probably doesn't want you to, anyway. His star power only seems to grow the louder the boos become, and as long as you're willing to pay to see him fight, even if it's in hopes of seeing him receive come comeuppance, Covington's bank account will reap the benefits of his efforts.

Bottom line, you don't need to be a fan, but it's foolish to not acknowledge the problem he presents anyone in the world at 170 pounds.

"After a while, no matter how much you hate him, you've at least got to respect him," White said. "I mean, the guy keeps winning fights, and he's a tough dude."