LAS VEGAS — Kamaru Usman seems to be handling the ridiculousness of preparing to fight an opponent like Colby Covington about as well as you could hope for.
The UFC’s welterweight champion was on stage at the MGM Grand on Wednesday afternoon to promote his headlining fight at UFC 245 this weekend, and seemed completely unfazed by Covington’s – admittedly terrible – trolling.
Usman barely even tried to insult his opponent. Yes, he called Covington a snake at one point, but as far as fight game insults go, that’s pretty tame.
There’s certainly a level where Saturday’s headliner is personal for both fighters, but at least on the surface, Usman doesn’t seem especially fired up by Covington’s various accusations of drug use or just general trash talk.
If Covington has been trying to get under Usman’s skin, it doesn’t really seem like he’s succeeded.
“I’m relaxed because it’s a fight. At the end of the day we’re going to be locked in there and I’m going to do what I’ve been training to do,” Usman said. “I don’t think about anything other than that just because this clown is running his mouth.
“He’s worried about me. I’m not worried about him. He’s the one who has talked all the s— in the world. Now, he has to go prove that. The pressure’s on him.”
There is often way too much focus on trash talk in the fight game. Every semi-clever insult is turned into headlines and is repeated ad nauseam. That’s just what happens in a sport where the media has six weeks to write stories about a fight that lasts less than 25 minutes.
But the specifics of Covington’s trash talking aren’t what we’re exploring here. He’s terrible at it anyways. In the past, though, we’ve seen so many fighters become agitated in the face of relentless verbal attacks from their opponents.
It’s even impacted the way championship fights have played out. Most famously, Jose Aldo lost his featherweight belt after rushing recklessly at Conor McGregor and getting knocked out with one clean punch following a long, heated build-up to their 2015 title fight.
Covington is nowhere near the wordsmith that McGregor is, but Usman certainly seems to be handling the trash talk better than Aldo did.
At a “Fighter Panel” on Wednesday, Usman was onstage as one of the three champions who will defend their belts on Saturday – Amanda Nunes and Max Holloway are the others – and seemed entirely unfazed by anything that’s happened in the buildup to the fight.
Maybe part of that is because Usman always comes across like a pretty laid back guy, but the Nigerian genuinely was more animated when he was talking about his fear of snakes than when he responded to any of Covington’s provocations.
“There’s something about them, there’s no bones in their body,” Usman said. “There’s just something about snakes. I don’t care if they’re non-venomous. It’s still a snake.”
Usman is well aware that a considerable number of the people who tune in for Saturday’s fights are desperately hoping that he lays a beating on Covington. If that’s the measurement you want to use, it can be argued that means Covington has done his job as a heel to promote the fight.
Love him or hate him, Covington has succeeded in getting a rise out of people.
It doesn’t seem like he’s managed to do the same with Usman, though, and you have to think that plays into the champion’s hands.
Covington tries really hard to be controversial, but the biggest crowd reaction from Wednesday’s public media event actually came when featherweight title challenger Alexander Volkanovski said something kind of nice. Covington had earlier referred to a question as being for nerds and virgins, and a few minutes later Volkanovski sheepishly took a moment to say there’s nothing wrong with being either of those things. It was a timely reminder that fans sometimes react just as strongly to positivity as they do to things like Covington’s negative antics … Covington pretended to read Donald Trump Jr.’s book on stage, the same way he did at a press conference a month ago. He is a slow reader, clearly … The UFC tried something new on Wednesday, holding an “Athlete Panel” instead of doing open workouts. The results were mixed, honestly, but it’s certainly true that open workouts have lost some of their value in recent years, so it was worth trying to mix things up … Holloway was asked who his toughest opponent to-date has been, and he had a strange answer. He chose Andre Fili, who he fought back in 2014. Fili’s a perfectly fine fighter, but considering that Holloway has taken on some of MMA’s all-time greats, Fili wasn’t the name anyone would have expected the featherweight king to drop.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019