December 13, 2019

Real Compared To What: Colby Covington's MAGA Flack Grows With A UFC 245 Win

By Michael Ford

UFC 245 approaches, and despite three title fights, two of which feature future Hall of Famers, there is a clear "main event." Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington aren't just fighting over the UFC Welterweight Championship, they've tapped into racial and political fault lines and anxieties. The "MAGA" persona that Covington has decided to embrace --
whether or not you find it offensive and embarrassing -- has nonetheless struck a nerve with the champion, and put heat behind what would merely be an intriguing style matchup. Usman is now in a position to shut up the loudmouthed interloper, and set the world right, so to speak. But the question is worth asking: As galling as a Covington win might be, does it open the door to bigger things for the welterweight division, and potentially the sport? I'd argue that it does.


Off the bat, it's worth conceding that if you're against pro wrestling-style sideshow antics and over the top clownery in the name of promoting a fight, this bout isn't your cup of tea. In fact, you're probably sick of Covington in particular, because his schtick isn't new -- Chael Sonnen did it first and did it better. But sports villainy doesn't always have to be fresh to be effective. People just need to care enough about an athlete or team to root for them to lose, and hopefully pay for the chance to see it. In pay-per-view sports like boxing and MMA, the draw of someone fans love to hate has been as effective, if not more, than someone fans merely want to celebrate the greatness of.

And in Covington, we have a troll who is easy to root against, as he is willing to say or do anything to garner attention. Who can forget his tasteless comments about Matt Hughes' accident? Like a shock jock, he's willing to cross lines of decency to elicit an emotional response, and because of his total embrace of the persona of a MAGA hat-wearing, boorish supporter of President Trump, he elicits an emotional response within the FOX News contingent as well -- an avatar for the concept of "owning the libs."


So what better way to own the libs than upset the champion in the Octagon after months of baiting him with offensive rhetoric, then smugly basking in your success in the post-fight press conference? The MMA media, like the mainstream media, tends to skew liberal, yet like what happened with Trump, they can't resist what draws clicks, even if they're hate-clicks. A win at UFC 245 makes Covington a bigger star and draw for the UFC, at a time when PPV partner ESPN's "just stick to sports" mantra is proving to be every bit the shibboleth that its detractors have long contended it to be.

If the concept of newly-minted UFC Welterweight Champion Colby Covington doing the "car wash" of ESPN studio appearances and matching decibels with the Stephen A. Smiths of the world makes you shudder (and it should), then you have to consider that it also makes whoever is next slated to face him a veritable golden boy in the eyes of many fans. Even Tyron Woodley, who has had a contentious relationship with the UFC fanbase over the years, should expect to be showered with cheers.


Jorge Masvidal, 2019's biggest success story, has obviously carved out his own niche with the "BMF title," and there are obviously several built-in angles to promoting a matchup between the World Champion and BMF Champion if that world champion is Covington, but the optics of a MAGA hat-wearing fighter facing a Latinx fighter would be impossible to ignore. Is it opportunistic and a little distasteful? Yes, it is. But that doesn't mean that the UFC is above it.

It's obvious that Colby Covington is playing a character to promote his bout with Kamaru Usman this weekend at UFC 245. And for many, the idea that Covington is willing to play a cartoonish caricature of a real villain for publicity and exposure is offensive. But isn't it more offensive that many fans wish they could be the character that Covington is playing, be they behind keyboards or at the ballot box? It might be upsetting to see a fighter whose real views are likely animating such a cringeworthy performance benefit from our disdain, but that fighter is still stepping into the Octagon against a man he has trolled and agitated for months, and he will have to account for his behavior, unlike those who live vicariously through him. Exactly what that accounting will consist of remains to be seen, and yes, he absolutely has a chance to come out on top. And if he can somehow do that, then it just gets more real.



UFC 245
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington (UFC Welterweight Championship)

UFC 245: Usman vs. Covington takes place December 14, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 245 Pre-Fight Analysis


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