DISCLAIMER: The following editorial contains some political material that may be considered sensitive to some readers.
There were two words that started it all: “filthy animals.” After defeating Demian Maia in 2017, Covington got on the microphone and labeled the jeering Brazilian audience “filthy animals” who live in a “dump.” In Covington’s own words, this was the turning point of his career. Because from that moment on, he became widely viewed as a “heel” who was playing a character.
Since that night, Covington has gone on to have many other controversial moments, making deeply personal remarks about family members of ex-teammates; sharing NSFW details about an alleged rendezvous with Polyana Viana, who called the remarks “revolting;” mocking the traumatic injury of UFC legend Matt Hughes; and numerous other chaotic moments. The entire time, there was a common understanding in the MMA community that Covington was pouring every ounce of blood into his role as a villain, and he was plastered with attention for his efforts.
Then, there was a second turning point for Covington: his allegiance to Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement.
To many people, this only adds more fuel to Covington’s heel persona. After all, Trump is widely regarded as the most polarizing president of this generation, if not ever. His name alone conjures up intense emotion on opposite ends of the spectrum, from blind hatred to unshakable fealty.
At first, some considered Trump to be a rebel, a leader of a fringe sect of the Republican Party. Today, Trump and the Republican Party have become practically synonymous, which means that a celebrity embracing Trump often means getting embraced in return by millions of his followers.
Is Colby Covington still a villain? The answer to that question might seem clear to some. However, ever since joining the MAGA movement, there could be over 74 million Americans alone who view otherwise. Because as polarizing figures like Donald Trump and many others have historically proven, one man’s “heel” is another man’s hero. And Covington himself is now a prime example of this, as he now has a fanbase that rivals if not exceeds his haters.
If you look at the feedback on a Covington interview on YouTube pre-MAGA vs. post-MAGA, you’ll get a glimpse of how his “approval rating” has skyrocketed between 2017 to today. And Covington continues to grow that fanbase by strengthening his ties to prominent conservatives like Donald Trump Jr. and Candace Owens.
After Covington lost to Kamaru Usman at UFC 245, there were some large liberal platforms and media figures that celebrated what they felt Usman’s win represented. For Usman, a Nigerian immigrant, to defeat a prominent “Trump supporter” was considered by them to be poetic justice.
On Saturday, Covington says he will carry Donald Trump’s “dragon energy” with him into battle where he’ll become a demon for The Nightmare. Left unchecked, the spirit of this moment would proceed to allow diehard conservatives to throw their guy’s win in the faces of those who celebrated the UFC 245 outcome. Score one for The Red Team.
There is currently no other conservative athlete who has the potential to garner that kind of sharp reaction right now. Sure, there are other open conservatives who have larger followings than Covington, but none as provocative and whose behavior falls in such lockstep with modern right-wing tendencies.
Huh? Colby Covington? Offensive?
“People shouldn’t be so concerned with the things I’m saying on social media or what I’m saying to other fighters,” Covington said in a BT Sport interview. “You’re watching us go into a fight to try to kill each other. So, you’re bloodthirsty savages on one token, and you wanna see a guy die inside the Octagon, but on the other thing, you’re hurt by some words I’m saying? Like, what is this, the Ultimate Feelings Championship? I thought this was the Ultimate Fighting Championship.”
Translation: “Fuck your feelings, snowflakes.”
What’s that you say? Colby Covington lost to Kamaru Usman at UFC 245?
“He beat me? Oh, you think that’s beating me? By cheating? Oh, OK, yeah, that’s how a real Democrat would think,” Covington said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “They’ve got to cheat. They’ve got to rig the elections to win. They can’t beat us fair and square.”
Translation: Rigged. Fake News.
Like any group of people, conservatives are not a monolith. There are quiet voters, public endorsers, regular donators, and then are those who shout out their team’s battle cries with a megaphone, thus amplifying their appeal and attracting a vocal fan support that matches the volume. So if it’s attention that Covington strived for when he became Colby Covington 2.0, then he could win a title at UFC 268 that might mean more to him than the UFC welterweight championship: the title of “Posterboy Conservative Athlete.”
There are many outspoken liberal athletes in the mainstream, one of whom Covington made it a point to target, but very rarely will you find an outspoken far-right conservative who is still active in their athletic career. In two days, what if a pronounced, in-your-face conservative in his athletic prime were to get his “revenge” and defeat the UFC’s best pound-for-pound fighter in Madison Square Garden? That would be the moment where Colby Covington’s star power became all he hoped it would be. And like it or not, it would turn this “textbook villain” into a conservative superhero.