Former interim strap-hanger, Colby Covington, will take on official Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Kamaru Usman, this Saturday (Dec. 14, 2019) at UFC 245 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Covington’s personality and heel persona have made a lot of people forget — or, more accurately, ignore — that he’s an absolutely incredible talent. World-class wrestling and remarkable conditioning have carried him past most of his opposition, but Covington has steadily been improving the other aspects of his game as well. Beyond all the nonsense, what’s actually intriguing about Saturday night’s main event is that it’s a title clash between the definitive top two fighters in the division. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the challenger’s skill set:
Covington’s whole approach to fighting is based on the strength of his conditioning. A smaller Welterweight, the Southpaw pushes a ridiculous pace in all aspects of fighting, and on the feet that means an incredible amount of volume.
Let me clarify one thing first: Covington did not strike like he usually does against Demian Maia. In the first round, Covington ate some clean blows from Maia, leading to many completely writing off his kickboxing. It’s true that Covington got hit, but he adjusted his stance specifically for Maia: Covington glued his hands to his forehead and leaned forward, presenting Maia an easy target but keeping his hips back from the potential shot. It was awkward positioning, but the point was to make Maia engage without getting taken down.
It worked … perfectly. Maia landed some nice left hands early, sure, but Covington landed back, and it wasn’t long before he had completely taken over and battered the Brazilian.
Aside from that anomaly, Covington’s kickboxing has steadily improved while remaining consistent in his methodology. Covington is no technical wonder, but he throws hard punches at an insane rate and makes an effort to get his head off the center line — that’s more than enough to make him dangerous.
“Chaos” has good instincts as well (GIF). He understands when it’s time to step in hard behind his punches or pop off a few jabs and keep his head back. His money punches are the left overhand and right hook. In both cases, Covington slips his head off the center line well, turning the punch over hard at an angle that often allows him to slip straight punches (GIF). Like Daniel Cormier, Covington will often “fall over” on his punches as a form of head movement that flows directly into a takedown attempt.
Covington is a strong kicker as well. Each of his last four fights — and four biggest wins — came opposite fellow Southpaws, which meant that he was largely unable to blast his left kick to the mid-section. However, Covington adjusted well, proving his lead leg round kick is fairly powerful as well and aiming his left leg at the calf. In addition, Covington likes to mix snap kicks up the middle, which he’ll often follow up with long punches. On occasion, Covington will leap into the air with a flying knee and use that to hide a takedown attempt or flurry (GIF).
In the clinch, Covington is an active striker. He does a good job at securing one deep underhook and hanging on his opponent’s other arm. Eventually, he’ll come over top his opponent’s underhook with an elbow or break entirely with a spinning strike.
Covington’s performance against Robbie Lawler was the best kickboxing showcase of his entire career. All of his usual tools were in play, but there was a much higher emphasis on his jab, which makes sense given he was fighting a fellow Southpaw in Lawler. However, the performance also made for a really interesting contrast to Usman’s kickboxing. The men are incredibly similar in many ways, but Usman always looks tense even when in complete control.
“Chaos” was relaxed while snapping jabs at Lawler, and it made all the difference.
Much of the time, Covington was jabbing without committing much of his weight, not really looking to do damage with the blows. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it made plenty of sense opposite “Ruthless.” Lawler moves his head very well and loves to counter over the top of jabs, but Covington wasn’t exposing his chin while jabbing. Instead, he was making Lawler move his head and waste energy. Meanwhile, Covington would look to time him while out of position by looping overhands, hooking off to the mid-section, and frequently bring up a snappy lead leg round kick to the body.
Covington’s volume and aggression mean he’s definitely going to get hit. Sometimes, he slips too much when throwing his punches, meaning he’s off-balance and vulnerable to follow up strikes. In general, however, Covington’s commitment to closing the distance quickly means he rarely absorbs full power blows.
A Division I All-American wrestler and two-time Pac-10 champion out of Oregon State University (OSU), Covington is among the most decorated wrestlers in UFC currently. In the cage, Covington has dominated most of his competition largely on the strength of his wrestling.
One of the more special things about Covington’s wrestling is that he can really do it all. Covington can drive opponents from their feet in the opening with a double leg. He can overpower foes in the clinch. Perhaps most important, Covington can chain wrestle extremely well along the fence.
Covington transitions between the single leg, body lock, and double leg takedown extremely well. Though it’s really his signature strategy, perhaps the best, most dominant example came against Dong Hyun Kim. Kim was then ranked as the seventh best Welterweight in the world — and strangely hasn’t fought since their June 2017 bout — and Covington dominated him.
Against the larger Judo master, Covington wasted no time in using a single leg to drive Kim into the fence. Once there, Covington pulled Kim off the fence momentarily with the leg, allowing him to move to the body lock. From there, Covington off-balanced his foe enough to slip his head to the outside and cut the corner, taking the back clinch. From that position, Covington proved his grip strength excellent by hanging and wearing on Kim, constantly looking to force small trips or threatening the back take/mat return. When Kim turned toward Covington in an attempt to scrape him off his back, Covington dropped into a double leg and planted him on the mat.
Over and over, this sequence of transitions played out, sometimes in the opposite order or with a different finish. Either way, Kim was unable to shake Covington.
Against Lawler, Covington found success with many different takedowns. His running knee pick made an appearance on a few occasions, a common tactic for “Chaos” after a failed shot lands him in the clinch. At times, he blasted Lawler from his feet with a double — not easy given Lawler’s athletic sprawl. Finally, Covington also made use of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s single leg takedown finish, yanking the leg high with both hands and kicking out the base leg.
It was overwhelming.
Defensively, Covington showed some slick work against Demian Maia to shut down the Brazilian’s single leg takedown. That’s quite relevant ahead of his match up with Usman, so let’s take a closer look at his takedown defense:
Covington has finished five of his opponents via submission, each by way of rear-naked choke or arm-triangle choke. These are the classic submissions of a transitional wrestler, someone who dominates by getting behind his opponent and working into a dominant position.
The rear-naked choke comes as a result of Covington’s wrestling talent. The way Covington drags his foe to the mat often encourages them to turn away in an attempt to stand. Usually, Covington will immediately look to catch his foe’s wrist, wrapping up a two-on-one grip. From that position, Covington can pummel his opponent with the free hand, and he’s often able to slip a hook on soon.
While maintaining control of the wrist, Covington will hip in and flatten his opponent. Once there, it’s largely a matter of whether his foe presents the neck or stays flat that determines whether Covington will earn a submission or technical knockout stoppage.
The arm-triangle often presents itself from a similar situation. As Covington hangs on the wrist, his other arm can wrap around the arm and neck to really weigh down on his opponent. If his opponent tries to turn to his back, he’ll fall directly into the arm-triangle.
Defensively, Covington was submitted by Warlley Alves’ nasty guillotine choke in his ninth professional fight. It’s not too uncommon for high-level wrestlers to suffer a submission loss like that early in their fight careers, as they can be a bit too confident that the submission will fail. Since then, Covington has done a nice job of securing the proper angle outside of his opponents leg when threatened by the guillotine.
The two men in this Welterweight title clash tend to dominate in very similar fashion. However, no one has really tried to wrestle either of them, which makes this such an interesting fight. What happens if Covington doesn’t have a cardio edge, or is Usman is unable to control his foe? Until it happens, we just don’t know.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 245 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.