Colby Covington will not get to perform on the grand stage of Madison Square Garden, as he had hoped. Now he's aiming to take his challenge of welterweight champion Kamaru Usman to a December UFC event at the Capital One Center in Washington, D.C., "10 blocks down the street from the White House," he said Monday. "The Trumps, it's an easier commute for them."
Covington, appearing on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show with his ever-present red MAGA cap on his head, had Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump in the front row in Newark, New Jersey, rooting for him during his dominant victory over Robbie Lawler last month. That win put Covington in position to fight for the title, with the UFC aiming for Nov. 2 in New York. But over the weekend, the promotion announced that it instead will headline the Garden pay-per-view show with Jorge Masvidal vs. Nate Diaz.
What went wrong with Covington vs. Usman?
"The UFC came to me with a basic challenger's offer. And I'm a champion," said Covington, who still parades around with the interim belt he won in June 2018 but was stripped of less than two months later after he underwent surgery and could not compete in a title unification bout on the UFC's timetable.
What was especially off-putting for Covington in his dealings with the UFC, he said, was what he described as an unwillingness to negotiate. "They came and ran at me and they said, 'Take this, or leave it and we'll pass it on to the next person,'" he said. "That's not fair negotiating, and that's not right."
The UFC did not respond to an email requesting comment on the situation.
Covington believes he's a bigger star than the UFC recognizes. "Everybody knows what happened when I walked into the pay-per-view last time in L.A.: 17 to 18,000 fans got on their feet, booing, screaming, this and that," he said, referring to the loud, largely negative fan reaction to his arrival at cageside for UFC 241 last month in Anaheim, California. "I stole the show, and I wasn't even on the Jumbotron."
Speaking of negative reactions, Covington had just that when he heard of the Masvidal-Diaz booking at the Garden. "Oh, they want to make a BMF title. It's really the JMF title -- the Journey Mother F'ing title," he said. "They're both 50-50 in the last couple of years. What's Nate Diaz, 1-1 in the last three years? How does that make you a BMF?"
Covington went on to demean the record of American Top Team teammate Masvidal, as well, saying Masvidal is 5-5 in his past 10 fights (he's actually 6-4). "That sounds like a journeyman to me," Covington said. "Journeyman Mother F'ing title, JMF title, in Madison Square Garden. It ain't gonna sell anything."
Covington and Usman, on the other hand, are both 15-1. Covington has won seven in a row. Usman has 14 straight victories, most recently a March win that dethroned Tyron Woodley.
"I'm open for business, man," Covington said. "Let's stop playing these petty games, you know? These dodgeball-type games, it's ridiculous, man. Cut the games, and let's get to serious business."
Masvidal explains how Diaz fight got made
Jorge Masvidal says he was originally offered a fight vs. Kamaru Usman, then accepted a bout with Nate Diaz.
Masvidal: Diaz fight 'speaks to my soul'
It was a wild weekend in the world of Jorge Masvidal. As Helwani alluded to in his Monday morning column, there were as many as three different fights on the table for Masvidal for November at Madison Square Garden.
Ultimately, the fight with Nate Diaz -- the one that made the most sense, and the one for which fans were most excited -- will headline UFC 244. Masvidal closed out Helwani's show by walking everyone through how the process played out from his perspective.
"They offered me a fight with Usman, we went back and forth for maybe a day on the numbers and stuff like that," Masvidal said. "And when we got to where I liked it and it was comfortable, I said, 'Yeah, let's do it. I'm in.' Usman didn't say the same thing until later.
"While that later was going on, they reached out to Nate. Nate said, 'I'm in. Let's just make it right for me.' And then they approached me back again with a, 'Hey, would you like to fight Nate?' and I said, 'OK, let's fight Nate.' That's how it happened, and f---, I'm excited, man."
Despite missing out on a UFC title fight, Masvidal had an excitement in his voice that was palpable when talking about the fight with Diaz.
"This is how my mind works: Ben Askren, for example, what's the worst that could happen to me? This dude's going to hug me up. No biggie," he said. "When I fight a guy like Nate, it speaks to my soul. When I think about what's the worst that could happen to me, I can think about some bad things. Me getting tired. Me getting hurt. This guy trying to finish me, trying to really end me.
"Those fights f---ing speak to my soul. They motivate me to wake up. I don't have to press the alarm button because I'm already awake. I'm already running. I'm already doing what I have to do, because I know my life is in jeopardy. When I'm uncomfortable is when I'm most comfortable."
Ferguson calls Khabib's performance lazy
Tony Ferguson explains why he thought Khabib Nurmagomedov's performance at UFC 242 lazy, calling him a wet blanket.
Ferguson confident he has what it takes to hand Khabib first loss
With Khabib Nurmagomedov's successful title defense against Dustin Poirier on Saturday, attention turned immediately toward the fighter who's clearly next in line in the lightweight division, Tony Ferguson.
Despite booked fights between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson falling apart four times, Khabib's undefeated record and Ferguson's 12 straight wins make the bout seem like an inevitability, as long as everything can line up right.
In an interview with Helwani taped shortly after UFC 242 wrapped up and aired on Monday's show, Ferguson didn't lack for confidence.
"Lazy. One-dimensional," Ferguson said of Nurmagomedov's approach. "Nothing against him -- both of the guys did an awesome fight week. I know there were a lot of nerves and stuff. Khabib showed up, he obviously won. He put the pressure on Dustin, and Dustin didn't have an answer for it, so props to Khabib for winning.
"But like I said -- lazy. We prepared for this guy many times, he's a good fighter, but I know how to break that code," Ferguson continued. "Being my type of fighter and my kind of guy, you know I throw a whole lot of barrages of punches, kicks, knees and elbows. So when I see someone pushing against the cage and not really doing too much -- be inactive and just kind of putting themselves [on their opponent] like a wet blanket ... in jiu-jitsu, we use that saying: He's a wet blanket, just sitting there. It's a lot of pressure ... but to me, it's just boring, man. It's lazy."
Ferguson claimed he saw a handful of small adjustments from Nurmagomedov, compared to past fights, but his clear message is that if he get his shot at Khabib, he'll be the one to break the undefeated champion's run.
"Khabib's a high-level grappler, and he's been grappling his entire life," said Ferguson. "So have I. In wrestling, you're playing chess, it's not checkers. You're going to need to know where your opponent's going next. You can't just learn wrestling overnight. In Dustin's case, he's a great fighter and everything, but I've been doing this a lot longer than Dustin has, as far as grappling.
"My style's a little bit different. Obviously, it's not always going to work, but right now for Khabib, I believe my style is actually the one that could outsmart him. I could outthink him, and I could out-move him, outmaneuver him and put him places where he's not familiar."
Velasquez explains 'El Toro' luchador mask
Cain Velasquez shows off a variation of the mask he wears for Mexican wrestling promotion Lucha Libre AAA, where he is known as "El Toro."
Velasquez: 'I'm not done' with MMA
Cain Velasquez was in studio for the Helwani Show, publicizing his second pro wrestling match for the Mexican promotion AAA this Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Velasquez even sported the bull mask that he wears for his "El Toro" lucha libre character.
After talking about what happened in his fight against Francis Ngannou, it would have been an ideal moment to announce his retirement from MMA, if that was his intention. He didn't. Velazquez told Helwani that he intends to finish his three-match deal with AAA, which concludes in October, and then fight again in the UFC.
"I will, unless somebody else tells me otherwise," he said.
Velazquez, a former UFC heavyweight champion, earned rave reviews for his pro wrestling debut at TripleMania, AAA's biggest show of the year, last month. He said he aspires to continue with both his wrestling and fighting careers and wants to get back into the Octagon in 2020.
"If both organizations are OK with that ... I think I'm an asset to both," Velazquez said, later insisting, "I'm not done."
Joanne Calderwood, on the Abu Dhabi heat
"I like being hot. It's good for our bodies, especially with what we're doing, to be hot. I do like it in training. Even in Scotland, I used to always wear a hoodie and want my body to feel that warmth. But there's difference between feeling warm and being in an oven." -- Joanne Calderwood, on fighting in nearly 100-degree heat in Abu Dhabi, while wearing a rash guard to cover her tattoos out of respect for local culture