LAS VEGAS – You have to wonder how crowds would react to Colby Covington if he was better at being the bad guy.
There are lots of people who rightfully hate him and his entire Trump-loving, Twitter-trolling, lowest common denominator shtick as it is. He’s earned their derision.
But Covington is also easier to ignore than he’d probably like.
Has he really broken into the mainstream sports world’s consciousness? Has anyone ever written an article about Covington that didn’t explicitly acknowledge that he can’t quite pull off the bad guy persona he’s been trying so hard to sell?
When he took the stage for a “Fighter Panel” on Wednesday in front of a crowd of fans at the MGM Grand to promote his fight against welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, he was met with tepid applause.
There were no boos, though. For a guy who talks as much as Covington does about how he loves being hated, that’s got to be disappointing.
His entire public persona is built on the idea that he’s the most hated man in MMA, after all.
“I enjoy (the hatred). My entire life I’ve had doubters,” Covington said Thursday from UFC 245 media day. “They never thought I’d be here. They never thought I’d wrestle in college, they never thought I’d wrestle in high school on the varsity team, and I just keep proving them wrong. The more haters and people who tell me I can’t do something, that just inspires me and motivates me more to prove them wrong.”
That may sound like it’s just your typical ‘athlete portraying themselves like an underdog’ storytelling, but it came in the middle of a media scrum that saw Covington accuse UFC fans and staff of cheating on their wives and their taxes while wearing a Make America Great Again hat and recounting an ugly incident where he called Brazilians ‘filthy animals’ in a post-fight interview in Sao Paulo.
The guy has been doing his best to get under peoples’ skin for years now. He once livestreamed himself searching for UFC president Dana White to do some off-site negotiating at the Palms Casino. When he actually did run into him, the UFC boss wasn’t happy. The livestream ended almost instantly.
That incident was illustrative of the strangeness that comes with following Covington. It was a dumb thing to do, but the second he was actually confronted with being face-to-face with White, he knew to turn the camera off.
Covington talks and talks, but there’s no question in anybody’s mind that it’s all for show. He was around the UFC for a couple of years before he took on the troll persona. He generally seemed like a nice enough guy.
But he wasn’t exactly on a rapid rise to the top of the welterweight division, despite winning his first three fights in the UFC. It was only when the UFC threatened to cut him that Covington decided to take on this more brash, offensive persona.
He’s admitted as much this week, and that didn’t sit well with Usman.
“He’s now telling you guys that ‘Hey, this is just a gimmick,'” the welterweight champion said. “This guy knows. This guy knows what’s happening. Four times, he’s been offered this fight and he’s turned it down, so he knows.
“Right now, he’s trying to find an exit. He’s trying to find a way out. ‘Hey guys, don’t hate me when I get killed on Saturday. Please don’t hate me, I was just putting on an act to entertain you guys.’ No, if you are (about) that life, you’ve got to stay about it.”
That might be the most interesting question about Covington. Does he want to move past this persona he’s created and just go back to being a regular fighter so that he doesn’t have to constantly search for the most controversial thing to say?
Life would probably be easier, although it’s unlikely that he’ll just suddenly be forgiven for all the terrible things he’s said. He’s crossed many lines, and whether or not that was lucrative shouldn’t excuse his abhorrent behaviour.
So does he want to move on? On some level, he must.
Being the bad guy has brought him lots of attention, both good and bad. On Saturday, he’ll compete in the biggest fight of his life and has the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream and become a UFC champion. He’ll probably even get a shoutout from the President of the United States at some point this weekend.
When you listen to Covington speak, though, it’s hard to shake the feeling that deep down, he’d like to be greeted by cheers, not boos.
“I think my family would like it, I know my mom would,” Covington said. “She’s had some sleepless night, worried about my safety. They wanted to kill me in Brazil, they had a bounty on my head. To be liked, I know it would make my family happy and the babyface turn would be cool, but I’m not looking to make friends here, I’m looking to make money.”
DE RANDAMIE NOT RUSHING TITLE FIGHT WITH NUNES
Don’t be surprised if Germaine de Randamie starts slow against Amanda Nunes.
It would be crazy to try to do anything else.
Nunes, after all, has taken out just about every great women’s fighter in UFC history, and she’s proven she doesn’t need much time to finish most of them.
It took her 51 seconds to KO Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino.
It took her 48 seconds to finish Ronda Rousey.
She needed just over three minutes to get done with Miesha Tate, and a little more than four to put Holly Holm away.
So when de Randamie challenges Nunes for the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 245 on Saturday night, don’t be surprised if she’s patient.
“There’s no rush, I’ve got 25 minutes,” de Randamie said. “It would be stupid and ignorant and arrogant if I run in. I have 25 minutes, I’ll take my time.”
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