Colby Covington is playing a dangerous game with the MAGA character he has adopted during his recent ascent in popularity. Whether he realizes it or not, when he steps into the Octagon, it’s a war of ideologies as the 32-year-old’s promotional tool of choice is one that consists of inflammatory rhetoric that echoes from the filthy xenophobic corners of America.
After dominating Tyron Woodley at UFC Fight Night with a fifth-round TKO, Covington dipped into his bag of MAGA tricks to disparage the man he defeated. With a history of bad blood between the two, Covington opted to keep up the charade and not only attack Woodley, but also the protests against police brutality that have taken the nation by storm.
“(Tyron Woodley) is standing up for lifelong criminals,” Covington said. “Black Lives Matter is a complete sham. It’s a joke. You’re talking about people who are complete terrorists and criminals. These people who are not hard-working, blue-collar Americans. They are bad people. They are criminals.”
He later added about Woodley: “He’s a communist; he’s a Marxist. He stands for criminals. He hates America. That’s why he got broke tonight.”
With a country at odds ahead of one of the most significant presidential elections in American history, Covington opted to pour gasoline on the fire in order to keep up his charade. He received a phone call from President Trump after his victory and spewed his bluster that would certainly have the 45th president smiling from the Oval Office.
To be clear, Covington’s political affiliation isn’t the problem here. Athletes can vote for whoever they want. However, in Covington’s case, what he’s doing is beyond endorsing a candidate — it’s attacking a group of people who are demanding equality in an inflammatory manner that dips its toe into full-blown racism.
If you are finger-wagging at the notion that Covington is displaying full-blown bigotry, here’s further evidence:
Shortly after his victory, Covington engaged in a war of words with current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who stopped Covington last December. After Usman mentioned Covington’s phone call from Trump, the former interim welterweight champion fired off a salvo of blatantly racist insults.
“Who did you get a call from? Did you get a call from, freaking, your little tribe? Did they give you some smoke signals for you? You’re a joke Marty Fake Newsman!”
It’s the equivalent to the “good ol’ days” of pro wrestling when Bobby “The Brain” Heenan would mock Tito Santana’s Mexican heritage on commentary by calling him a “Mexican wetback” or an “ignorant garbage picker.” The difference is that Heenan was doing this in the 1980s when this behavior was deemed acceptable by many. That isn’t the case in 2020. But, alas, here we are.
But how did we get here? More important, how did we get to a place where MMA media, for the most part, has been silent on the issue?
Let’s start with Covington.
Before Covington’s proverbial heel turn into notoriety, he was on the cusp of being released from the UFC despite being 12-1 and riding a four-fight winning streak ahead of his 2017 fight with Demian Maia. The reason had little to do with his success inside the Octagon as much as it was about his fighting style as a wrestling grinder who lacked the personality to get over with fans.
Although the seeds were being planted for his new character, he was complimentary and kind to the Asian fans after defeating Dong Hyun Kim. But he clearly took notice of what Chael Sonnen was doing with his mouth as a wrestling-based fighter who had a very similar style to that of Covington. He knew what to do next.
Borrowing heavily from Sonnen, Conor McGregor and the ’80s heels of professional wrestling who mocked the cultures of their opponents, Covington put on a new bombastic costume. But this outfit would be rooted in the real world as Trump’s term as POTUS gave Covington the idea of a persona that would use real-life controversy to bolster his profile. Covington lacked the wit of McGregor and his gift of gab that allowed him to antagonize his opponents into submission. Instead, he took aim at other cultures while putting over the “Make America Great Again” mentality.
It started with his victory over Maia in Brazil where he called the country a “dump” and Brazilians “filthy animals.”
It made headlines while alienating his multi-cultural teammates at American Top Team. Regardless, he got what he wanted and dived in.
He championed Trump, routinely wore a red MAGA hat and took aim at anybody who wasn’t white. No, seriously. It might sound hyperbolic to say that Covington’s new outfit was of a White Nationalist, but his actions over the past few years have certainly fit the bill.
His actions have caused him to leave his gym and lose a few friends, but he has a new legion of fans who have been empowered by Covington. It also helps that he’s a pretty good fighter.
Every fight has been a cultural war, and it all came to a head when Covington faced Usman at UFC 245 for the welterweight title. This time, however, his mouth wrote a check that his backside couldn’t cash and was stopped in the fifth round of the fight. But that hasn’t stopped Covington from riffing off at every opportunity. With the country divided as protests rage across the country after multiple black men and women died at the hands of police over the past few months, Covington found a new target.
He’s in over his head on this one. This isn’t an idea that Covington is verbally running down. It’s a reality and lives are being lost.
And when you live the gimmick for as long as Covington has, you become the gimmick. There’s no backing down now because you are in too deep. This isn’t to say that he wasn’t a Trump supporter before, but everything is amplified now, and Covington is wading in waters that are beyond his depth of knowledge. Rather than intelligently attempt to back his statements, Covington has opted for the low hanging fruit by calling protestors “terrorists” and lobbing ill-advised jabs at LeBron James.
Calling Woodley a communist and Marxist and being unable to substantiate those claims when challenged at the post-fight press conference were a clue that Covington was traversing territory that he wasn’t fit to handle. He can’t intelligently defend himself in a debate on the subject and runs the risk of being dismantled by someone who can. Racial equality isn’t a game, yet Covington feels comfortable in this role.
Well, when the face of the promotion you fight for is an avid Trump supporter who spoke at the RNC convention and suggested that cities were facing “lawless destruction” from protests but never once addressed police brutality, you don’t just get a pass, you get a full-blown endorsement.
When Tyron Woodley won the UFC welterweight title, he wasn’t granted a trip to the White House to meet President Obama. But Covington won an interim title and has become best friends with Trump as White played liaison to this new relationship between the president and UFC fighter.
Through all of this controversy and hate-spewing, White has done little to curb Covington’s actions. In fact, he endorses this behavior because it falls in line with his own beliefs.
“One of the things we’ve never done here in the UFC is stop people from expressing how they feel about certain things inside or outside the Octagon,” White told reporters after the fight. “Even if it’s me. If it’s about me. Who’s more about free speech than we are? We literally let our people do or say whatever it is they do. It’s normal.”
What’s normal for White is to support the fighters who share similar beliefs. At a recent Trump rally, White was in attendance with Henry Cejudo and Justin Gaethje. It’s not by accident that White often showers them with praise while the likes of Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman haven’t received the same type of promotional support.
Because of this, the UFC’s core fanbase has become a breeding ground for conservatives who share in these beliefs. They don’t have to worry about a Black Lives Matter banner in the Octagon or anything that supports racial equality despite the makeup of MMA fighters being mostly minorities and foreign fighters. These are the same people who shout “keep politics out of my sports” until it is the politics that they endorse.
Check any comment section on your favorite website with a story on a minority fighter and you’ll be left aghast at what is said. Social media is littered with UFC fans running down Black fighters. Angela Hill recently became the first African American woman to headline a UFC card and an interview with MMA Fighting where Hill addressed it hit social media. The mentions were littered with “nobody cares,” “she has a bad attitude” and various other disparaging remarks. Something that should be celebrated — and, honestly, it’s surprising that there are still “firsts” for African Americans in 2020 — and not shouted down by what Covington has proudly called the “silent majority.”
Speaking of silent, the MMA media has, for the most part, said next to nothing about Covington’s actions over the past few years. There are numerous opportunities to address this in podcasts and editorials, but the top outlets have only reported what was said and left the editorializing to the fights themselves.
Part of the issue is the lack of diversity in MMA media. Where the NBA and NFL have plenty of diversity with minorities and women rounding out coverage with a variety of viewpoints, MMA is still far behind in this regard. Because of the lack of perspective, the topic gets glossed over.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that MMA media endorses this behavior, but it does spell out that this type of coverage is outside of its depth. And when the UFC president advocates for Covington — and is known for banning journalists who rub him the wrong way — who is going to risk their credentials challenging White and one of his favorite fighters on Black issues in America?
When White was asked by Cassandra Cousineau, an African American female reporter, about the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the fighters who made statements in support inside the Octagon, the UFC president was unable to answer.
Considering that every other major sporting organization has issued some kind of statement in support of Black Lives Matter but White could only muster up “I don’t understand what you’re asking” on behalf of the UFC speaks volumes about the promotion and why Covington has felt comfortable doing what he has done.
The UFC has a race problem that nobody affiliated with the organization wants to openly admit. Like the U.S. president, it is pandering to an audience who applauds this dangerous xenophobic rhetoric. And if nobody holds them accountable, it will only continue.
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