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UFC 272: Covington vs. Masvidal preview - Which friend turned foe emerges on top?

Get the dirt on the headliner of UFC 272, where Jorge Masvidal will look to knock the block off of mouthy Colby Covington as these friends turned enemies face off.

Jorge Masvidal punching Kamaru Usman at UFC 261
Jorge Masvidal punching Kamaru Usman at UFC 261
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Let’s go back all the way to early June 2016. Colby Covington is prepping for a fight against Alex Garcia, hoping to avoid consecutive losses after being submitted by Warlley Alves 86 seconds into their fight the previous December. His teammate and close friend, Jorge Masvidal is hot off another contentious decision loss, this time to Lorenz Larkin. It marks the third split decision loss for Masvidal in his last four fights, the previous losses to Benson Henderson and Al Iaquinta. Though Masvidal fought for the Strikeforce lightweight title shortly before Strikeforce was fully integrated into the UFC, it looks like he’s doomed to be someone who hovers on the border of the official UFC rankings and nothing more. For Covington, he’d be happy to secure that type of luck at that point as his wins have been anything but exciting. Covington gets a call from the UFC, telling him Garcia is out with an injury. It won’t be long before Covington is told he’ll be fighting Jonathan Meunier, an unknown Canadian. Just what Covington needs: another opponent nobody has heard of for him to build up his record with....

Saturday night, Covington and Masvidal will be headlining UFC 272. To say they’ve come a long way since early June 2016 would be an understatement. A strong argument could be made Covington turned himself into the most hated fighter on the UFC roster. The levels of hate he has achieved doesn’t come without a large degree of success. As for Masvidal, his level of popularity got to the point the UFC made up a belt out of whole cloth for him to fight over with Nate Diaz. Perhaps most impressive, they’re headlining a card without a title on the line. Sure, that was something that happened with great frequency ten, twelve years ago. Unless your name is McGregor, that doesn’t happen in the current era of the UFC. There are questions to the legitimacy of their bad blood, but that won’t matter so long as they put on a hell of a fight.

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the rest of the prelims, click here. For the rest of the main card, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

UFC 272 Weigh-in Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal, Welterweight

While I’m anticipating this fight as much as everyone else, it does need to be said the stakes are questionable in this fight. Both have already lost to the reigning champion, Kamaru Usman, twice. It’s hard to sell a trilogy when a rubber match isn’t needed. Their most recent wins aren’t exactly the most impressive. Masvidal beat a past-his-prime Ben Askren then followed that up with a drubbing of Nate Diaz. I love Diaz, but no one outside of the Diaz cult is mistaking him for a title contender. As for Covington, he beat a past-his-prime Robbie Lawler – who was coming off a contentious loss to Askren — to get his first crack at Usman. His second crack at Usman came off the back of a win over Tyron Woodley. You know, the guy who was knocked out clean by Jake Paul. Both Masvidal and Covington looked great in those wins, but they aren’t as impressive in hindsight.

Regardless, this contest appears to be a stylistic nightmare for Masvidal. It isn’t that Masvidal is a poor wrestler. It’s that Covington is a great wrestler who never stops coming. Masvidal proved he’s prone to takedowns against not just Usman, but also against Demian Maia. Masvidal backers will say Masvidal took the first Usman fight on short notice and Maia couldn’t secure a takedown late in their contest. Valid points, but Maia also has a notoriously short gas tank and he couldn’t stop Usman in their second fight with a full camp. Given one of Covington’s greatest weapons is his everlasting gas tank, Masvidal won’t be fortunate to have Covington gas out the way Maia did.

It’s unlikely Masvidal will be in great danger of being finished. Not only is Masvidal notoriously difficult to put away, but putting opponents away has never been a strength of Covington. To be fair to Covington, it isn’t from a lack of effort. He never stops working, whether it’s looking to advance position or land GnP. The issue for Covington is a lack of power. To Covington’s credit, he has improved his striking technique to the point he can stun an opponent on the feet, but his style is more death by a thousand cuts as opposed to decapitation.

As for Masvidal, after several years of being content to fight to decision – typically coasting in the final round – he developed a killer instinct and rocketed into superstardom. His flying knee KO of Askren is a legendary highlight, but his exceptional KO’s of Donald Cerrone and Darren Till have been lost in the fray created by the Askren KO. What the Cerrone and Till KO’s demonstrate is Masvidal’s feel for boxing. There’s a lot to unpack there. A product of the backyard fighting scene that launched Kimbo Slice into stardom, Masvidal has a street smart boxing base that is hard to find in the modern MMA world. Yes, he has smoothed it out with years of technical coaching, but his early years instilled a natural feel into Masvidal that can’t be taught in a gym. It isn’t like Masvidal hasn’t proven to be studious of his opponents either. His KO of Askren wasn’t happenstance. Of course, Masvidal success on the feet is dependent on his keeping the fight standing....

It’s also dependent on Covington’s durability. The fast talker doesn’t get a lot of credit for how well his chin tends to hold up. Covington’s haters – and there are a lot of them – love to point out Usman put him away, but Covington also fought several rounds with a broken jaw before finally succumbing to Usman’s continued punishment. That remains the only time Covington has been finished with strikes. Since his loss to Alves, Covington has done well to avoid putting himself in bad situations on the mat. Not that Masvidal is likely to threaten from there. Masvidal has excellent survival instincts, but he rarely looks to finish the fight on the mat. He has only one submission win in the last decade, two for the entirety of his career.

This feels like a two-true outcome fight. Either Covington smoothers Masvidal for the majority of the contest and gets a decision win or Masvidal finds Covington’s chin with something heavy. As much as everyone likes to crap all over Covington’s rhetoric, he isn’t a stupid fighter. He knows Masvidal is the better striker, so it would be surprising to see Covington’s busy style of boxing appear for more than just flurries before looking for a takedown. Depending on the odds, a betting man might bet on both a Covington win by decision and a Masvidal win by TKO/KO. I’m favoring Covington’s ability to control where the fight takes place. Covington via decision

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