In the world of combat sports, the line separating reality and entertainment can often be blurred.
How often have you asked yourself: “Do these two fighters really hate each other? Or are they putting on a performance to sell extra pay-per-view buys?”
But on Sunday (Australian time), the potential for scepticism will be non-existent when arch enemies Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington lock horns again for the welterweight belt at UFC 268 at the hallowed Madison Square Garden in New York.
Watch UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2 LIVE on Main Event available on Kayo and Foxtel, Sunday 7th November from 1pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >
Make no mistake, these two men have a lot of history and their hate for each other runs deep.
For starters, Covington is an unabashed supporter of former president Donald Trump, and even got invited to the White House when Trump was in office.
Given reigning champion Usman is of African descent, and what Trump’s presidency represented for many black Americans, Usman was always going to be at loggerheads with Covington on politics, and went so far as accusing him of trying to divide the country with inflammatory remarks.
MORE: This terrifying beast is on a historic tear. Only the most hated man in the UFC can stop him
ULTIMATE GUIDE: How to watch epic UFC 268-Canelo combat double header in Australia
Covington is undoubtedly a firebrand with the gift of the gab who has adopted the “heel” persona seamlessly, largely by being politically incorrect.
Among his many outrageous comments, Covington accused Usman of using Erythropoietin (EPO) — a banned substance which stimulates red blood cell production and assists with endurance — for “a couple of years” in the lead-up to their first fight in December 2019.
Act or no act, most reasonable people would think Covington crossed the line when, again in the lead-up to UFC 245, he said Usman gave his late trainer Glenn Robinson a heart attack and that Robinson would be watching their main event showdown “from hell”.
Covington didn’t stop there, though. The former interim champion claimed that Usman was not actually born in Nigeria, but was in fact born in America, in Dallas – a kind of reversal of the birther movement conspiracy theory his hero Trump subscribed to which claimed former president Barack Obama wasn’t born in America, but was born in Kenya.
It also plays nicely into Covington’s use of the nickname he has for Usman: ‘Marty Fake News-man’, a reference that also draws on Usman’s nickname ‘Marty’ which he acquired in high school because his coach was having trouble pronouncing his full first name, Kamarudeen.
Throughout it all, despite clearly harbouring deep disdain for Covington, Usman remained fairly calm and collected in the face of the verbal barrage. But while ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ put a lot of Covington’s theatrics down to attention-seeking, he did believe the 33-year-old’s behaviour also showed what kind of person he was.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a guy universally hated this bad,” Usman told MMA Fighting back in 2019.
In response to Covington’s unfounded allegations about his nationality, Usman said he was proud of his immigrant story and went so far as to say he believed he was even more American than Covington, considering America is a country of immigrants and he, as an immigrant, has become a spectacular sporting success story.
Things really boiled over between the pair in August 2019 when they engaged in a live on-air bust-up after Covington’s win against Robbie Lawler.
And then came the fight itself, where Usman got the chance to shut Covington up in the best way possible, by breaking his jaw.
Widely regarded as one of the best welterweight fights in UFC history, Usman put his belt on the line in what was his first title defence, after usurping Woodley as king of the division earlier in 2019 at UFC 235.
In what was a back-and-forth contest full of huge hits from either fighter, only one judge had Usman in the lead going into the final round.
Usman needed to produce something huge in the fifth round, he needed a finish – and that’s exactly what he got. Twice he rocked Covington, sending the American to the canvas, before ending the contest with rapid-fire hammerfists to the head with just 50 seconds left – the latest finish in UFC welterweight history.
But you didn’t think that Usman successfully defending his title in such dramatic circumstances would keep Covington quiet did you? On the contrary. Inspired by his hero Trump, Covington labelled the result “fake” and referee Marc Goddard “fake” for finishing the fight when he did.
He also accused Usman of not only “faking” being hit in the cup, but also being poked in the eye in order to buy himself some time and get a rest during the fight.
It all blew over again live on air in September last year when they had another verbal stoush following Covington’s win over Woodley.
Whoever’s side you might find yourself on in this gargantuan war of words, one thing is for certain – these men are the two best fighters in the welterweight division.
In one corner you have Usman (19-1) who has won his last 18 fights, including each of his 14 bouts in the UFC, in an undefeated streak that dates back eight years. He has also defended his title four times since winning it.
In the other corner you have Covington (16-2) who won 15 of his first 16 fights before being stopped by Usman.
One way or another, with these two men so evenly matched, it’s not hard to envisage another fight for the ages at UFC 268.