Image: ESPN MMA

The most telling anecdote about self-styled UFC welterweight heel Colby Covington, from an ESPN profile ahead of last weekend’s fight against Robbie Lawler, was the revelation that Covington was supposed to be cut from the promotion three fights ago, even though he carried a four-fight win streak and a 7-1 record.

After Covington beat his first ranked opponent back in 2017, a UFC matchmaker told Covington’s reps at American Top Team that they’d release him after his fight with Demian Maia. “Something else had to change, obviously, to impress them. So he took that route,” ATT owner Dan Lambert told ESPN.

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That route” was addressing a hostile Sao Paulo crowd after a victory over Maia and yelling, “Brazil, you’re a dump. All you filthy animals suck.” The gambit worked, and Covington’s since leaned into it, hard. He’s now in position to fight Kamaru Usman for the undisputed welterweight championship, specifically because he has embraced the role of an irredeemable shithead.

In a sport full of garden-variety morons, a sport where its most famous fighter has made his name on racist trash talk, Covington stands out. It might be more effective if it weren’t so predictable and embarrassing. He was involved in a “brawl” with Usman in Vegas in March, and he jawed off afterward about Usman’s “terrorist rat” manager Ali Abdelaziz. Covington also joked about deporting Usman, who’s lived in the United States since he was a child, back to Nigeria.

Covington has correctly deduced that MAGA hats make people mad, so he always rocks his. Trying to brand Usman as “Marty Fakenewsman” is one of the most cringeworthy attempts at cutting a promo in combat sports. Before his interim title fight with Rafael Dos Anjos, Covington called his shot and said he wanted to be the first UFC champ to visit the White House, which he did. The following video sums up his whole vibe:

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After he defeated Lawler last weekend, Covington said, “Let’s talk about the lesson we learned tonight. Robbie Lawler should have learned from his good buddy Matt Hughes. You stay off the tracks when the train is coming, junior.” Hughes is a former UFC fighter who suffered serious brain damage after getting hit by a train, which is a hell of a reference to make for post-fight trash talk on a Saturday afternoon in Newark. The interview also featured lusty boos for Covington and a shrieking intonation to the crowd to “shut up and let me finish my interview!”

All of this has been a great business decision for Covington, who has remained on the UFC roster, and will now get a title shot. This past weekend’s victory, which took place in front two equally embarrassing Trump sons, was his second straight victory over a former welterweight champion. On the merits of his athleticism and pressure wrestling, Covington arguably deserved the title shot which Usman earned against Tyron Woodley in March, and he definitely has more impressive credentials than Jorge Masvidal, even if he’s not nearly as exciting.

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The UFC has always taken cues from professional wrestling, so it’s not surprising to see Covington thrive not in spite of being racist, but explicitly because of it. As the ESPN feature made clear, Covington is maybe not on the UFC roster at all if he doesn’t call Brazilians filthy animals. UFC czar Dana White was very clear that he doesn’t really care how rude or racist anyone gets as long as it’s a good show:

“Whoever you are or whatever your thing is ... it doesn’t matter to me. I sell fights for a living,” White says. “So if you’re different or whatever your deal is, I’ll work with it. The thing with Colby is I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. He really did go meet the president, and he really was excited about it.”

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ATT teammate and Brazilian champion Amanda Nunes called out Covington over his remarks in Sao Paulo, and according to ESPN, a handful of Brazilian fighters at ATT as well as some of his family and friends have stopped talking to him. He will get booed before he fights Usman, and I’m dreading the trash talk he’ll use toward his Muslim, Nigerian-born opponent. The UFC and Dana White will be cool with it, though. After all, it’s good for business.