Covington vs Woodley: A Rivalry Three Years In The Making
By James Lee
As the UFC are a week aloof from a title defence of Israel Adesanya and a month away from the highly-anticipated UFC 254, you would be forgiven for looking forward to them solely.
However, this Saturday’s headliner between Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley is rightfully attracting mass attention and will not be neglected.
Though, as the expectation is growing, it is mostly for the wrong reasons as social tension has prevailed, yet the competitive nature the contest poses should be the predominant underlying factor highlighted most.
Needless to say, the pair’s past championship status and current ranking means attention is guaranteed, yet the long rivalry fuelled by their opposite personalities is above all in adding affection to the contest.
As expected, Covington has played on political polarisation and has attempted to irritate both Woodley and the fanbase. Yet, he wants that to be the storyline. The more the wider community hones in on his antics, the more he succeeds. He self-admittedly forced his persona for increased attention, and it worked. Continuing that is all he knows, and Woodley is the perfect associate to fire at.
However, the competitive nature of two of the best welterweights of all time fighting should be the real story. Not just that though, but in a contest years in the making.
The former American Top Team teammates have gone back-and-forth for over three years and have been tipped to fight on several occasions since the pair both held titles in the 170 lbs division in 2018.
The eventual fight announcement was surprising amid the years of unlikeliness, but as the duo prepare to face off before the UFC depart for their second stint on Yas Island, there are several compelling factors regarding their dispute that should be noted.
First and foremost, the unusual nature of Colby Covington is something the large majority of the fanbase cannot quite put their finger on. Usually, somebody who forcefully engages in false dialect to boost their fighting status is ignored, however, he has pushed it to the extreme whereby he cannot be expelled.
His political-leaning and imitative character made him an instant enemy to the fanbase since he began to express himself over three years ago after his professional career was dwindling with little indication a push in popularity would be near.
Evidently, there are a lot of aspects to Colby Covington that can be criticised. His stirring up of social tensions and distinguished enamouring of the controversial United States President are clearly unlikeable traits. However, what cannot be disputed is his inside-octagon excitement and most importantly, his fighting ability that has gotten him to the pinnacle of the toughest division in the sport.
Maybe because every time he fights the stakes increase and as does the anticipation, but for me, he is one of the most compelling fighters to watch in the sport. His non-stop pace ensures there is never a cooling-in period to any of his actions as that stride is there for the full duration of the contest, whether that be fifteen or twenty-five minutes.
Very few fighters can truthfully say they do not take a backstep in a fight, but Covington is one who can. Regardless of the firepower he faces, his pressure mainly overcomes that, even when fighting former champions in Rafael dos Anjos and Robbie Lawler.
A UFC record number of strikes attempted at 541 in the Lawler fight in particular shows a level of activity rarely matched and provides an almost throwback to the old days of the sport whereby nobody currently fights alike.
Consequently, and as it could be said dealing with pressure is a particular weakness of Tyron Woodley, it may be the case that his usual style will frustrate and eventually cause his counterpart into mental submission.
Regardless of hypotheses regarding potential outcome though, Covington has achieved the one thing that ensures attention in sport, being that the fanbase cares. In his case, they tune in to see him lose. Although unsuccessful in his last outing, that was not enough for some. They will continue to watch until he is beaten so badly he cannot conduct himself in the manner he has been doing for years now.
Whether that moment awaits on Saturday is a mystery currently, but a large majority of the fanbase will be watching to see that potentially dooming moment of humility.
Nevertheless, whether Tyron Woodley can connect with his power is the main question being presented. If not, it could be a long and recently familiar night for him.
It is unfair to say that is all the former champion possesses, but that is where he has encountered the most success, being landing that knockout strike or forcing others into a hesitative state through fear.
When categorising somebody solely as a power puncher, it can be considered improper, however, his power is such a weapon it is unmatched at welterweight.
Victory in the striking realm against Stephen Thompson, Darren Till and Robbie Lawler show the effectiveness of his power in acquiring octagon success, as the American does not have a traditional striking background compared to those mentioned.
Without doubt, his background in wrestling has furthered his career accomplishments, but more recently, his focus has shifted to solely relying on striking upon his execution of a game plan.
If Woodley cannot connect with his favoured right-hand though, it would seem the forward pressure of Colby Covington is likely to overwhelm him in a similar fashion in which he was dethroned by Kamaru Usman, although with a more strike-heavy manner. The lack of fear of being taken down could, in fact, favour him by allowing him to concentrate on landing a fight-ending sequence.
Regardless, as tension has been the prominent point of discussion surrounding the event, the anticipation for the stylistic matchup is more engaging.
Of course, the rivalry has been chief in garnering awareness, but the sentiment that two of the best will oppose each other, with the winner and loser taking drastically different paths depending on the outcome, is far more intriguing than any sort of bragging rights that may transpire from the result.