After a quick exchange of punches to open the main event final round at UFC 272, welterweight contender Colby Covington advanced on Jorge Masvidal, bulldozed him into the fence and dragged on the canvas.
Some people at the sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas booed Covington for holding back the action. The UFC has sold the fight between Covington, a former star wrestler at Oregon State, and Masvidal, a 37-year-old veteran who graduated from backyard fighting in Miami to the sport’s major leagues, as a vendetta. And the pair delivered action worthy of a fight born out of genuine mutual dislike. Midway through the fight, Covington’s ground and pound had bloodied Masvidal’s nose, and an elbow from Masvidal had cut Covington above the left eye.
But it was still a competition, and Covington, 34, enjoyed a huge advantage when the fight went to the mat. So he controlled Masvidal in round 5 like he had in the previous four and took a unanimous decision victory.
And the fight was a big deal too, less because of the stakes than the characters involved. Masvidal was 2-2 in his last four fights, but he’s a dependable action fighter who eagerly indulges in pre-fight talks. Covington had lost two of his last three, but he’s grown his following since rebranding himself as an outspoken right-wing antihero. Neither fighter entered Saturday as champions, and each had lost Kamaru Usman’s recent welterweight title challenges.
But Covington and Masvidal were close friends turned rivals. Saturday’s fight was a contest between athletes, but it was also a literal fight between real enemies, and the animosity helped sell the event.
According to UFC President Dana White, the fight card drew 19,425 spectators and generated $6.76 million in ticket revenue. While pay-per-view numbers were still unavailable, White said he expected robust results.
“This fight was way over budget, just on the doorstep,” White said at a press conference.
Covington (17-3) and Masvidal (35-16) have each been guaranteed $500,000, although Masvidal, who signed a new contract with the UFC last week, will also earn a bonus based on sales. map. Covington, however, fought for a lump sum.
“It wasn’t about the money tonight,” said Covington, the UFC’s top welterweight contender. “It was a personal rivalry that needed to be settled, and it settled.”
The contract and its terms were among the very few topics that Covington and Masvidal could agree to lead to the grudge match. They also both acknowledge that they became as close as brothers while training together after Covington, who grew up in Oregon, moved to suburban Miami to start his career in mixed martial arts. Covington moved in with Masvidal and his wife at the time, and the fighters regularly worked in corners of each other.
But heading into Saturday’s main event, they were at odds on most other topics.
Why did their friendship end?
Masvidal said they broke up over Covington’s refusal to pay a trainer who worked with the two of them, but Covington said Masvidal simply grew jealous of Covington’s rising profile.
Who got the better of his workouts at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida?
Masvidal said he did, once he adapted to Covington’s world-class wrestling skills. Covington has maintained that he regularly bullies Masvidal in training.
And which man is former President Donald J. Trump’s most loyal supporter?
Masvidal claims he is and that Covington has no idea about Trump’s politics. Covington wears “Make America Great Again” hats in public and said he was in touch with Trump’s family early last week.
But once the fights moved from the verbal to the physical, the stalemate ended and Covington imposed his unparalleled wrestling skill and conditioning on Masvidal.
Early in the first round, Masvidal landed a right leg kick from Covington that left a red mark. Masvidal, because he was the most skilful attacker, preferred to fight standing up and from a distance.
Covington responded by forcing Masvidal to the fence and, ultimately, to the floor, where the writhing, grappling, grabbing and squealing favored the former college wrestler.
Masvidal inflicted damage: an elbow cut Covington above the left eye, and another kick left a large mark on Covington’s left hamstring. But Covington controlled the fight, repeatedly knocking Masvidal to the mat and sapping his energy with long bouts of grappling.
“He took my back and rode me really well,” Masvidal said. “It left me a little flat.”
Late in round 4, Masvidal connected with a right hook that dropped Covington to a knee. But Masvidal couldn’t muster the energy to follow. In the blink of an eye, Masvidal, bleeding from the bridge of his nose, rested his head on Covington’s shoulder and took a deep breath.
Covington, recovered, finished the round pushing forward, landing punches.
Covington said he was dominant throughout the fight. “I was ready for another five rounds in the parking lot,” he said.