In the past 14 months, Colby Covington has won an interim UFC title, visited the president of the United States at the White House and confronted the undisputed champion of his weight class in a crowded Las Vegas buffet line. (Google it if you don’t know the story.)
One thing he has yet to do, however, is actually fight for the UFC’s undisputed 170-pound belt.
That’s the biggest story going into Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event in Newark, New Jersey. Can Covington (14-1), the polarizing yet undeniably worthy title contender, maintain his place at the head of the line against the welterweight division’s bogeyman, Robbie Lawler (28-13)?
It’s been nearly two years since Covington really turned up the volume on his heel shtick, doing his best to offend the entire country of Brazil before a fight against Demian Maia. Whether that gimmick has helped Covington improve his lot in the welterweight division is debatable.
Yes, he won an interim title last year, but it didn’t result in a shot at the real crown. The UFC ultimately stripped Covington of the interim title and gave the shot to someone else. That’s a perceived wrong that Covington will look to right on Saturday.
As for Lawler, he might have a few wrongs of his own to right. Lawler used to be associated with American Top Team, the same Florida training camp as Covington’s, but left in 2017. Lawler has been relatively quiet on why he left, but the split did not appear to be particularly amicable.
A welterweight title shot is on the line for at least half of Saturday’s headline matchup (it’s a matinee, rare for a U.S.-based event, with a 3 p.m. ET start for the main card). And even if Lawler can’t secure a shot for himself, he can spoil a long-awaited one for his former team.
By the numbers
3: Welterweights who have landed 1,000 or more significant strikes, according to UFC Stats. Lawler (1,007) is third on the list, behind Georges St-Pierre (1,254) and Thiago Alves (1,057).
420: Days it will have been on Saturday since Covington’s last fight. This is the longest span between fights in his UFC career.
0: Instances during Lawler’s 42-fight career in which he has lost three times in a row. He is on a two-fight skid.
48: Takedowns landed in the UFC by Covington, which according to UFC Stats is the most among active 170-pounders and fifth most in UFC welterweight history.
71: Percentage of Lawler’s victories that have come by KO or TKO (20 of 28). By contrast, Covington’s past four wins have come by decision.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
A look back
Five vs. five
“If you go ask anybody on the street right now about any welterweight — who’s the bigger name, Robbie Lawler or Kamaru Usman?” –Covington, speaking to ESPN, comparing his opponent to the 170-pound champion. (Covington insists Lawler is bigger, calling him “a legend.”)
Get your popcorn and enjoy one of the greatest fights in UFC history:
Need convincing? Here’s an iconic image from the 2015 classic:
And the winner is …
I’m going with the upset here. Covington is favored to win, for good reason. He has been perfect in the UFC for more than three years now, and his tenacious wrestling-heavy style offers a tough matchup in a five-round fight. But something tells me Lawler will find his opening at some point, and he needs only one. — Okamoto
Brett Okamoto’s pick: Lawler via second-round TKO.
Waiting in the wings
Kamaru Usman, of course. Earlier this month, the welterweight champion watched with interest as Jorge Masvidal starched Ben Askren in five seconds and instantly became a contender. On Saturday, Usman gets to see whether Covington can seize back the title shot that’s been dangled in front of him.
What to watch for (beyond the main event)
A decade with not a loss between them
Claudio Silva is 13-1 and has not lost a fight since his professional MMA debut in 2007 — and that defeat was a disqualification for an illegal elbow.
The Brazilian welterweight’s run of victories includes a 2014 win over Leon Edwards, whose only other UFC loss came against Usman, now reigning as champion.
Silva’s opponent, Cole Williams, is 11-1 and last was defeated in 2009. The 35-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa, is making his UFC debut.
Not bad credentials for an early prelim.
Even earlier, even better: A battle of unbeatens
Opening the show at the Prudential Center is a meeting of undefeated prospects both making their UFC debuts.
Hannah Goldy, a 27-year-old fighting out of Tampa, Florida, is 5-0, just last month making an impression on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Miranda Granger, also 27, is from Washington state. Her record is 6-0, with all of her wins coming by finish, including five first-round submissions.
Both women have competed as strawweights, but this fight is at flyweight.
The co-main event: A ’59-piece and a soda’?
The co-main serves up quite a combo: Jim Miller and Clay Guida. Go here to check out more details about how their numbers add up to a ton of UFC history.
Are you up on your African trivia?
Kennedy Nzechukwu, who faces light heavyweight Darko Stosic in the opening bout of the main card, fights out of Fortis MMA in Dallas, but his nickname, “African Savage,” is an homage to his roots in Imo State, Nigeria.
As an African, however, Nzechukwu has a distinction he surely could do without: According to ESPN Stats & Information, he is the only active UFC fighter from Nigeria with a loss inside the Octagon. The others on the roster who are from his homeland: welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (10-0 in the UFC), middleweight interim champ Israel Adesanya (6-0) and featherweight Sodiq Yusuff (2-0).
Nzechukwu (6-1 overall) lost his UFC debut to Paul Craig in March after earning a contract on White’s Contender Series.
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