A fair amount of hilarious pageantry surrounds the championship bout between current UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and former interim champion Colby Covington. Some have even likened the bout to a morality play of sorts. I would argue it’s just an entertaining ruckus more in line with professional wrestling than some odd allegory for America. Regardless, the main event of UFC 245 could easily end up being one of the best fights of the year.
To be sure, Colby Covington is doing his very best to become a coveted heel in the UFC a la Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping, and, of course, The Notorious Conor McGregor. After all, that’s where a lot of the money is in the fight game these days. Fighters have to build their brand inside and outside of the cage if they’re to stay relevant.
So far, much of Covington’s hyperbole is reminiscent of the WWF’s Bobby Heenan set to the tune of Rico Suave. Adorned in the Stars and Stripes, he poses with strippers, brags about his sexual conquests, and hobnobs with the First Family. He’s also a gut-busting troll online and elsewhere. Sure, he can be cringey at times but he’s also damn funny in a very unapologetic kind of way. To be sure, many insist that behind the outrageous act, Covington is actually very kind and respectful, including the likes of Joe Rogan.
Kamaru Usman, on the other hand, is quite a bit more reserved. The son of Nigerian immigrants, he’s not known for his verbal jousting. Like many wrestlers-turned-MMA fighters, he presents a more stoic front to the game a la Dan Henderson and Randy Couture.
As for the fight itself, it could not be more of a dead heat going into Saturday night’s Welterweight Championship. Notwithstanding the Vegas odds that give the nod to Usman, the fighters share a nearly identical MMA pedigree on paper. Both Usman and Covington boast a record of 15-1-0. Both come from storied wrestling backgrounds. Usman is a Division II National Champion while Covington was a Pac-10 Champion two years in a row.
That both Usman and Covington are such solid wrestlers means the fight may very well turn into a slugfest. Neither fighter will likely be able to take the other one down, at least in the early rounds. The fight could be decided on the feet and this is where there’s an appreciable difference between the two.
Usman is the more powerful striker whose prowess has blossomed under the tutelage of renowned kickboxing coach, Henri Hooft. He hits hard and has developed some deft footwork. He’s also, far and away, the better striker against the cage.
Covington, on the other hand, makes his living in volume striking. He boasts an endless gas tank that rivals only the likes of Tony Ferguson. The man simply doesn’t tire in the Octagon. He wears his opponents down with constant pressure like a badger. In Covington’s dominating victory over Robbie Lawler, Covington threw a dizzying 541 strikes compared to Lawler’s 171 strike attempts. That’s more volume than Kelly LeBrock’s hair in Weird Science.
The fight seems to favor Usman in the early rounds. If he manages to coral Covington against the cage with footwork and powerful shots, he may prove the victor, as he did against Tyron Woodley.
However, if Covington can weather the initial storm and drag Usman into the later rounds with his head still intact, he could very well win. He needs to demonstrate the same growth in striking he did against Lawler, though while maintaining his relentless pace.
In either case, expect the main event at UFC 245 to be a barn burner. My prediction? Covington by split-decision.