Colby Covington: The UFC’s Biggest Heel
At UFC 225, the mouth will close and the fists will speak
Article courtesy of Paul Miller of MMA Freaks.
At 13-1 (8-1UFC) and ranked #4 in the UFC’s Welterweight division, one would think that Colby Covington had spoken enough with his fists to garner the attention that ultimately earned him the Interim title shot against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225 on Saturday, June 9th. But apparently, Covington disagrees and believes that more than fists is required. Much more.
In a seemingly never-ending tirade that began in earnest in São Paulo last October by calling Brazil a “dump” and all Brazilians “filthy animals” after a unanimous decision win over Demian Maia, Covington has been relentless on social media, apparently attempting to convince the MMA world that he is the worst a-hole who ever lived. I’ve heard his screeds described many times as “cringeworthy”, and in my opinion, that sums it up perfectly. It’s like watching a slow-rolling disaster playing out over weeks and months. Painful to watch; too awful to look away.
Nothing appears sacred to the UFC’s biggest heel. Attacking girlfriends and wives; ridiculing personal misfortunes; suggesting incest; attacking beloved figures like Kenny Florian and Joe Rogan; releasing cheesy videos surrounded by rented bikini-clad women swooning in his presence; spoiling the plots of newly released movies on purpose… Colby Covington has obviously set out to make himself the most hated man in MMA. And it’s working.
In the lead-up to Covington’s UFC 225 fight with RDA, he has been a big topic of conversation at MMA Freaks. Opinions surprisingly span a wide spectrum. Some think he’s really an a-hole. Some say they’ve met or spoken with him, and he’s actually a really nice guy. Some say it’s all an act. I say it doesn’t really matter, because he’s accomplishing what he’s set out to accomplish, for better or worse. He’s decided that all attention is good attention when you’re trying to become a household name. He’s decided that infamy is his most direct route to fame. He doesn’t care what your opinion is; he just wants you to have one. And if fan discussion on social media is any indication, he’s calculated correctly.
Colby Covington is obviously playing a character. The problem as I see it is that he’s not doing it convincingly. Every other successful trash-talking heel does it in a manner that drops the mask once in a while, so fans can tell they’re not taking themselves too seriously. A tone of the voice; a look in the eye; a curl of the lip; a flash of humility… They’ll break character from time to time and show some humanity. Ali, Sonnen, Bisping, even McGregor in his better moments… they’ve trash-talked in a way that lets you know it’s OK to pretend along with them that they’re an a-hole while understanding that you know that they know that you know that no-one can possibly be THAT much of an a-hole. Countless professional wrestlers have mastered this over many decades. The “heel-turn” is an old tradition, and we play along because it serves our entertainment to do so. It’s fun to pretend we believe they could actually be that evil.
It’s called “suspension of disbelief” – those moments when an audience willingly decides to play along with something unbelievable for the sake of entertainment. Superheroes can fly; spaceship engines make noise in space; shooting zombies in the head is easy… and combat sport “heels” are evil personified, who are the nemeses of our chosen favorites. We know none of it is real, but the performers or artistic medium offer something that makes us willing to pretend to believe it.
Covington lacks that ability 100%. He doesn’t give us anything at all to help us suspend our disbelief. And that leads many people to the conclusion that he’s just a plain old a-hole, even if they know he’s acting.
This may sound dramatic, but I fear for Colby Covington’s safety. Many of the things he says and does are the kinds of things that would cross lines of people’s tolerance if done outside the context of combat sports. Without the ability to suspend disbelief, the possibility exists that some whack-job is going to take him seriously. And if such a person decides that Covington needs to be set-straight, there’s no accounting for the actions of whack-jobs. Without suspension of disbelief, the entire nation of Brazil is his potential enemy.
This Saturday in Chicago, all the trash talk in the world will become irrelevant for 25 minutes, and Covington will be forced to speak with his fists. And aside from all the cringe-worthy talk, Colby Covington is an excellent Mixed Martial Artist. His relentless pressure and takedown threat could really cause trouble for dos Anjos. But RDA is among the elite and has looked better than ever since moving up from Lightweight to Welterweight. No doubt he will be well-prepared.
Brazilians will have their chance to see one of their own make Colby Covington choke on his new-found infamy. If RDA handily dispatches Covington, only Colby knows whether his abrasive persona will continue to live in its current form. But if Covington and his wrestling-heavy attack can overcome RDA and launch himself into title contention, I think we’re all due for more cringe than we can handle.