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‘I’m not surprised’ - Kamaru Usman on Colby Covington shaking hands after UFC 268

Whether or not Covington is actually ready to bury the hatchet, it sounds like Usman is ready to give him the respect he earned over 10 hard rounds in the Octagon.

It may not have lasted long, it may never happen again, but for one brief moment it seemed as though Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman buried the hatchet. That small amount of peace came just after the conclusion of UFC 268, the second time the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ and ‘Chaos’ had shared a full five rounds inside the UFC’s Octagon.

“It was his night, he had a better night,” Covington told Joe Rogan shortly after the reading of the judges decision, and not long after the two men shook hands and made brief pleasantries.

“I’m not surprised,” Usman later said of the interaction, speaking to the assembled press after the bout (transcript via MMA Fighting). “We’ve shared pretty much an hour with each other inside that cage. I don’t care who you are, there’s a mutual respect that just comes alive. It’s the spirit of competition. The spirit of martial arts.

“It’s just two competitors. We went to war. We spent almost an hour together inside that cage. I’ll leave [what was said] between me and him.”

Usman went on to credit Covington’s strong preparation and coaching, working under his new team at MMA Masters, for making the fight a difficult one. And although he may have wanted to find the finish after hurting Covington early on, the welterweight champ gave plenty of credit to his opponent’s heart and toughness.

“No disappointment,” Usman responded when asked about not getting the KO. “This guy’s tough as nails. This guy’s very, very tough. Let’s be honest, [Muhammad] Ali needed a [Joe] Frazier. All these guys, you can be the great one but there’s always going to be that one guy that’s going to be able to push you and he is that guy.

“As much of him outside the octagon that most people don’t like, myself included, you have to respect him as a competitor.”

Fans wondering if this all might lead to a cooling in the war of words between the two men need not pause for long, however. Once outside of the cage and given his own chance to talk to the press, Covington was quick to get back to his normal, outspoken ways—and quick to discredit Usman’s victory.

“He’s a cheating coward,” Covington said about Usman. “I have no respect for that guy. He’s obviously a cheater. He’s cheated in multiple fights. He was holding my glove tonight against the cage. In the first round I went for a takedown and he went bam, bam, twice to the back of the head. I think Dan Miragliotta’s one of the top three best refs in the game, I told him before the fight, do not let this guy hit me in the back of the head and he did. If you go back and look at the footage, clearly in the back of the head.

“When you hit somebody in the back of the head, it definitely dazes you real quick. That caught me off guard and just more tactics of him cheating. You’ll never see me cheating or trying to cheat. That unfair shake again. I still think I got the job done but I promise you haven’t seen the last of me.”

For as long as Usman holds the welterweight title, it seems unlikely that Covington will find a quick path back to contender’s status. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising if these two men meet at least one more time inside the cage before they walk away from the game.