By Alistair Hendrie
Moments before Kamaru Usman became the first man to knock out Colby Covington on Saturday in round five of their UFC 245 welterweight title contest, the outcome was well in the balance. Two judges had it 3-1 either way, while the third judge had it a draw. However, with a minute and a half remaining, Usman sent Covington crashing to the mat with a one-two and forced the stoppage with unanswered ground and pound. Now, though, the fine margins of the result plus the rivalry between the pair have led to calls for a rematch.
You have to feel Covington deserves a second chance, whatever you think about his taunting of just about every fighter on the roster, his bragging of weekends away with models and his labelling Brazil “a dump” after dismantling Demian Maia in 2017. The American protested the stoppage on Saturday, claiming referee Marc Goddard “robbed me of a fair fight.” He gave Usman his toughest fight yet, meeting the champion in the middle of the Octagon with a snapping jab and pesky hits to the body. Let’s also commend Covington on how he soldiered on with a broken nose.
Indeed, the two are beautifully matched and this weekend’s bout was so thrilling that a second meeting should be a possibility. The UFC are renowned for hosting title rematches too, such as Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk-Rose Namajunas. Plus, rematches create a narrative, help fans become invested and define fighters’ careers.
Still, Colby has a problem if he wants another title shot: marketable though he is, he has a poor relationship with UFC president Dana White and he’s unpopular with followers of the sport. Covington took exception to the UFC refusing to improve his contract in 2017, and his persona as a braggart has always polarised opinions. There are plenty of other challengers queuing up for Usman, too.
Birmingham’s Leon Edwards has emerged as one of the most intelligent and calculated welterweights in the world, outfoxing the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Gunnar Nelson and Donald Cerrone since dropping a decision to Usman in 2015. The Englishman watched from cageside at UFC 245 so slowly but surely, the quiet man from the Midlands is building his profile.
Jorge Masvidal is another name looking for a tilt at the belt. Nate Diaz couldn’t cope with Masvidal’s pace and volume before succumbing to a cut in their UFC 244 mega-fight, and at 35 “Gamebred” is a veteran who has seen and beaten most styles in the cage.
Covington aside, if we know the UFC like we do, Masvidal would be the most obvious number one contender. He’s recognisable, tough and would push Usman all the way over five frames. His attacks to the body and variety of punches, both at range and in the clinch, would give Usman a different puzzle to the more conventional and polished boxing of Colby.
Edwards, 28, will want chance too. Visiting American Kickboxing Academy recently, the adroit kicker has a two-inch height advantage over the champion and a fight IQ to mirror that of Usman. It would be fascinating to see if he could slow “The Nigerian Nightmare” with legs kicks and volume.
The next aim for Covington will be to recover from his broken jaw. During his time off Covington should reflect on how far he’s come over the last two years, having previously sat on the proverbial scrapheap but now standing as one of the UFC’s most promotable and exciting characters. Don’t be surprised if he and Usman renew hostilities in the near future, but Covington may well have to wait before he calls out his rival on fake news once more.
Check out Alistair Hendrie’s Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more