January 9, 2019

UFC 235: Kamaru Usman, Not Colby Covington, Is Next In Line For Tyron Woodley and We Don't Know Why

By Adam Martin

Last June, Colby Covington defeated Rafael dos Anjos by decision at UFC 225 to become the new UFC Interim Welterweight Champion. With UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley on the sidelines with injuries, and the event needing a second marquee fight behind the main event of Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero for the UFC middleweight title, the world's leading MMA promotion created an interim title fight, with the winner due to be next in line for Woodley when he was healthy to return. Or so we thought.

Woodley didn't need much more time to get healthy to fight again, as he returned at UFC 228 in September. The UFC welterweight champ was supposed to fight Covington to unify the belt, but Covington himself wasn't healthy enough to fight on the date the UFC wanted. So with the UFC in desperate need for a main event, the matchmakers called up Darren Till and gave him the headlining fight with Woodley, despite his previous bout being a very controversial decision win over Stephen Thompson. The UFC decided to strip Covington of the interim championship, although it still recognized that he had earned the fight with Woodley.

Woodley ended up dominating Till and defending the belt, and the UFC wanted to make a Woodley-Covington main event at UFC 230. But neither Woodley nor Covington were ready to fight on that card, and instead the main event ended up being a squash match between UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier and Derrick Lewis. The promotion then tried to book Woodley vs. Covington as the main event for the ill-fated UFC 233 card, but with Woodley still injured, the fight couldn't be booked, opening up the path for Kamaru Usman to enter the title picture.

After he smashed RDA at the TUF 28 Finale, Usman called for a title shot, and over the past weekend, the UFC decided to skip him past Covington and give him the next crack at Woodley. The pair will now meet in the co-main event of UFC 235, with the main event seeing UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones fight Anthony Smith. With two title fights on the bill, UFC 235 looks like one of the best cards of 2019 so far. But it's still fair to ask, why did the UFC go with Usman over Covington?
We probably won't find out exactly the reason why the UFC chose to give the title shot to Usman over Covington, but there has to be some drama behind the scenes between the UFC and Covington's manager Dan Lambert. We know the UFC has a great relationship with Usman's manager Ali Abdel-Aziz, and he did a good job of securing his client a title shot. Usman is far from the first client of his to get a title shot when fans and media felt there was someone more deserving, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Covington got skipped over here. But it's still shocking that the UFC decided to completely bypass Covington for the title shot, considering he would have a much better chance of selling PPVs over Usman. There has to be more happening behind the scenes that we don't know about.

It's very surprising that the UFC didn't see the potential that Covington had to sell this fight against Woodley. Although Usman might have a better chance of beating Woodley inside the Octagon, Covington is far superior at selling a fight. Keeping in mind their recent visit to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, it's almost shocking that UFC President Dana White didn't give Covington the fight to capitalize on the publicity that garnered. Maybe Covington wanted too much money, who knows. All we know is that Usman is fighting for the title next, while Covington sits at home and likely awaits the winner. Although even that is no sure thing at this point, considering the myriad of welterweight contenders out there.

That's not to say Usman isn't deserving of the title shot. He has won nine fights in a row, and many of the opponents he's beaten were the guys Covington himself beat to get the interim belt and title shot. But it still seemed like it made more sense for Woodley and Covington to end their grudge, and give Usman the winner of that fight. Now it looks like it's going to be the opposite. The UFC has their reasons for bypassing Covington, but we don't know them, and from the outside looking in, it looks like the egos of the UFC head honchos and Covington's management didn't match up, causing their client to lose his shot at the belt. But 2019 is a long year, and hopefully Covington eventually gets the title shot he deserves. Right now, though, it's Usman's, and if he upsets Woodley and there's an immediate rematch, it could be a long time before Covington gets a crack at the belt.

UFC 235
Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman (UFC Welterweight Championship)

UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith takes place March 2, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 235 Pre-Fight Analysis

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