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Kamaru Usman v Colby Covington Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 11’s Colby Covington

Perennial antagonist, Colby Covington, will go to war with former champion, Tyron Woodley this Saturday (Sept. 19, 2020) at UFC Vegas 11 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again, but Covington’s antics distract fans from his talent.

“Chaos” came closer than anyone else to defeating Kamaru Usman, who’s looking more and more like a long-time kingpin. The fifth round may have ended in disaster, but Covington was 23 minutes deep into a neck-and-neck fight with “Nigerian Nightmare” before getting dropped — there’s definitely reason to believe he can win with some adjustments. Of course, to earn a second dance with Usman, Covington has to return to the win column. That begins here, as Covington can attempt to finally settle his long-standing feud with Woodley and get back into the title mix in one fell swoop.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Covington’s kickboxing would not work were it not for his ridiculous volume. Whether with strikes or takedown attempts, Covington’s end goal comprises drowning his opponent.

The Demian Maia fight is a top-notch example of strategy over form. In the first round, Covington stood like a weirdo, leaning forward with his hands up by his chin, his hips way back. He presented an easy target for punches rather than takedowns, and Maia took him up on it, landing some good lefts in the first round.

UFC Fight Night: Maia v Covington Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Of course, Covington landed back, and when Maia began to tire, Covington was suddenly the one doing all the damage. Ugly, but effective!

Aside from that anomaly, Covington’s kickboxing has steadily improved while remaining consistent in his methodology. Covington is no technical wonder, but he throws hard punches at an insane rate and makes an effort to get his head off the center line — that’s more than enough to make him dangerous.

“Chaos” has good instincts as well — 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. Each of his four most recent wins 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.

UFC Fight Night: Covington v Lawler Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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’s simply 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.

UFC 245 Usman v Covington Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Eventually, those body shots allowed Usman to line up the fight-ending right hand.

In general, Covington’s volume and aggression mean he’s definitely going to get hit. Sometimes, he slips too much when throwing his punches, meaning he’s off-balance and vulnerable to follow up strikes. Throughout his career, however, Covington’s commitment to closing the distance quickly means he rarely absorbs full power blows.

Wrestling

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. In the cage, Covington has dominated most of his competition largely on the strength of his wrestling.

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 opening with a double leg. He can overpower foes in the clinch. Perhaps most importantly, Covington can chain wrestle extremely well along the fence.

UFC Singapore Fight Night Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

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 — and strangely still has not fought since their June 2017 bout — 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.

UFC Fight Night: Covington v Lawler Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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.

UFC Fight Night: Covington v Meunier Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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. Since then, Covington has done a nice job of securing the proper angle outside of his opponents leg when threatened by the guillotine.

Conclusion

Covington remains one of the most dangerous contenders at 170 pounds. If he can put on an impressive performance in his return bout, he’s immediately back in the immediate title mix, likely one more fight at most away from another shot at the belt.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 11 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 11: “Covington vs. Woodley” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


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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