Grinding wrestler, Colby Covington, is set to rematch Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight kingpin, Kamaru Usman, this Saturday (Nov. 6, 2021) at UFC 268 inside Madison Square Garden in N.Y., New York.
This is a strange fight. On one hand, Covington hasn’t really done anything to earn a rematch with Usman, who has clearly been far more impressive since their first match up. At the same time, “Chaos” did come closer to defeating Usman than anyone else by a significant measure, and at this point, Usman has smacked down most of the other top contenders at least once.
If this is going to be a fight anything close to the first, however, we’ll just have to trust that Covington and his new team at MMA Masters have indeed produced improvements in the last 14 months. Until then, let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Covington is well-known for his extraordinary volume, the backbone of his striking success. However, he’s definitely improving from a technical and strategic standpoint.
“Chaos” has good instincts over — his seemingly random spinning punches and kicks land with decent consistency (GIF). He understands when it’s time to step in hard behind his punches or pop off a few jabs and keep his head back. His money punches are the left overhand and right hook. In both cases, Covington slips his head off the center line well, turning the punch over hard at an angle that often allows him to slip straight punches (GIF). Like Daniel Cormier, Covington will often “fall over” on his punches as a form of head movement that flows directly into a takedown attempt.
Covington is a strong kicker as well. Prior to the Tyron Woodley bout, his four most recent victories came opposite fellow Southpaws, which meant that he was largely unable to blast his left kick to the mid-section. However, Covington adjusted well, making good use of his lead leg round kick and aiming his left leg at the calf. In addition, Covington likes to mix snap kicks up the middle, which he’ll often follow up with long punches. On occasion, Covington will leap into the air with a flying knee and use that to hide a takedown attempt or flurry.
In the clinch, Covington is an active striker. He does a good job at securing one deep underhook and hanging on his opponent’s other arm. Eventually, he’ll come over top his opponent’s underhook with an elbow or break entirely with a spinning strike.
Covington’s performance against Robbie Lawler was the best kickboxing showcase of his entire career. All of his usual tools were in play, but there was a much higher emphasis on his jab, which makes sense given he was fighting a fellow Southpaw in Lawler.
Much of the time, Covington was jabbing without committing much of his weight, not really looking to do damage with the blows. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it made plenty of sense opposite “Ruthless.” Lawler moves his head very well and loves to counter over the top of jabs, but Covington wasn’t exposing his chin while jabbing. Instead, he was making Lawler move his head and waste energy. Meanwhile, Covington would look to time him while out of position by looping overhands, hooking off to the mid-section, and frequently bring up a snappy lead leg round kick to the body.
Against Usman, both men found success in certain areas and struggled in others. For Covington, his best lands came in extended exchanges, when he would initiate with a jab or cross, avoid the counter with some head movement, and fire back right away. He was a bit looser than Usman, which really helped in such exchanges. Additionally, Covington’s left round kick to the inner thigh and mid-section was a great weapon, one Covington likely should have spammed even more.
On the flip side, Covington did struggle with some of Usman’s offensive weapons. Namely, the champion’s body work was a huge problem. Covington relies more on head movement than foot work to keep him safe, but that means his torso is more predictably in range. As a result, Usman’s cross and snap kick to the mid-section landed often, and even the most conditioned athlete will slow underneath enough body work.
Those body shots allowed Usman to line up the fight-ending right hand.
What changed with Covington’s move to MMA Masters? We only have one fight to judge, but there were promising signs. Most notably, Covington seems to have developed a deeper toolbox of kicking tricks. He was throwing a stomp kick with his lead leg, which helped set up his hop forward into a left power kick. It also served as a setup for his switch-stance overhand, Jorge Masvidal-style!
In general, it looks like Covington’s team has him trying to shift stances and sit on his right hand a bit more. His two cleanest punches of the fight came from his right side. In one exchange, Covington rolled following his cross, allowing him to step into a powerful right. Later, Covington fired a left high kick from the Southpaw stance, stepped Orthodox, then popped Woodley with a stiff 1-2 as the former champion tried to back off (GIF).
A Division I All-American wrestler and two-time Pac-10 champion out of Oregon State University (OSU), Covington is among the most decorated wrestlers in UFC currently. Even if he kickboxes more often now, wrestling remains his greatest strength.
One of the more special things about Covington’s wrestling is that he can really do it all. Covington can drive opponents from their feet in the open with a double leg. He can overpower foes in the clinch. Perhaps most importantly, Covington can chain wrestle along the fence.
Covington transitions between the single leg, body lock and double-leg takedown extremely well. It’s really his signature strategy, and perhaps the best, most dominant example came against Dong Hyun Kim. Kim was then ranked as the seventh best Welterweight in the world — Kim has since retired — and Covington dominated him.
Against the larger Judo master, Covington wasted no time in using a single leg to drive Kim into the fence. Once there, Covington pulled Kim off the fence momentarily with the leg, allowing him to move to the body lock. From there, Covington off-balanced his foe enough to slip his head to the outside and cut the corner, taking the back clinch. From that position, Covington proved his grip strength excellent by hanging and wearing on Kim, constantly looking to force small trips or threatening the back take/mat return. When Kim turned toward Covington in an attempt to scrape him off his back, Covington dropped into a double leg and planted him on the mat.
Over and over, this sequence of transitions played out, sometimes in the opposite order or with a different finish. Either way, Kim was unable to shake Covington.
Against Lawler, Covington found success with many different takedowns. His running knee pick made an appearance on a few occasions, a common tactic for “Chaos” after a failed shot lands him in the clinch. At times, he blasted Lawler from his feet with a double — not easy given Lawler’s athletic sprawl! Finally, Covington also made use of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s single-leg takedown finish, yanking the leg high with both hands and kicking out the base leg.
It was overwhelming.
Defensively, it’s unfortunate that Usman and Covington never really tried to wrestle, which would have been fascinating. Against Maia, however, Covington did an excellent job of denying the Brazilian his signature takedown chain. Maia loves to shoot a high-crotch takedown and then off-balance his foe with trip and dump attempts. Even if the finish fails, he’s often able to circle towards the back and jump on.
Covington shut all that down by focusing on bumping Maia with his hip and knocking Maia’s head into the inside position — a single leg takedown rather than high-crotch. From there, Covington could more effectively drop his weight on Maia via a sprawl, preventing most of Maia’s favorite transitions and really forcing his opponent to exhaust himself from a bad position.
Covington has finished five of his opponents via submission, each by way of rear-naked choke or arm-triangle choke. These are the classic submissions of a transitional wrestler, someone who dominates by getting behind his opponent and working into a dominant position.
The rear-naked choke comes as a result of Covington’s wrestling talent. The way Covington drags his foe to the mat often encourages them to turn away in an attempt to stand. Usually, Covington will immediately look to catch his foe’s wrist, wrapping up a two-on-one grip. From that position, Covington can pummel his opponent with the free hand, and he’s often able to slip a hook in soon.
While maintaining control of the wrist, Covington will hip in and flatten his opponent. Once there, it’s largely a matter of whether his foe presents the neck or stays flat that determines whether Covington will earn a submission or technical knockout stoppage.
The arm-triangle often presents itself from a similar situation. As Covington hangs on the wrist, his other arm can wrap around the arm and neck to really weigh down on his opponent. If his opponent tries to turn to his back, he’ll fall directly into the arm-triangle.
Defensively, Covington was submitted by Warlley Alves’ nasty guillotine choke in his ninth professional fight. It’s not too uncommon for high-level wrestlers to suffer a submission loss like that early in their fight careers, as they can be a bit too confident that the submission will fail. Woodley tried to recreate that defeat, but Covington twice used his grip around the neck to instead lift and slam his foe (GIF).
Covington is undoubtedly a great fighter, but he’s been on the sidelines for some time while Usman was destroying top contenders. As such, he enters this rematch a much bigger underdog than the first fight, and it’s up to “Chaos” to prove that he’s been hard at work all the while.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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