A welterweight grudge match for the ages will headline the UFC’s upcoming card on Sept. 19 when former teammates Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley finally square off after spending years taking shots at each other through interviews and social media.
To add to the magnitude of this fight, Covington looks to bounce back after suffering a broken jaw in his last outing against reigning welterweight king Kamaru Usman while Woodley has dropped back-to-back fights in lopsided decisions to Usman and Gilbert Burns.
Considering he’s spent nearly 50 minutes combined in the cage with Covington and Woodley, Usman is uniquely qualified to offer his thoughts on the matchup, especially considering the winner will take a decided step forward in the title race at 170 pounds.
“This is an intriguing fight. I love this fight,” Usman said about the matchup during the UFC Vegas 9 post-fight show. “This is a grudge match that should have happened a long time ago.
“Somebody came through and kind of ruined those plans but the fight is still happening now.”
That “somebody” was Usman after he took the title from Woodley and then finished Covington with strikes this past December.
Now the one-time American Top Team training partners will clash with the winner taking a step forward to championship contention again while the loser will undoubtedly have to eat a huge slice of humble pie and fall even further out of the title picture.
With the pressure ratcheted up for both fighters, Usman sees this as a particularly important moment for Woodley as he looks to bounce back after two consecutive losses in a row. If Covington hands him a third straight defeat, Woodley’s days as a top-ranked welterweight contender could be over.
Usman also knows this isn’t an easy fight for Woodley by any means.
“I think that this is the best and possibly the worst case scenario for Tyron Woodley,” Usman explained. “As far as style matchups, I think this is probably one of the worst stylistic matchups for him after coming off back-to-back fights with guys that love kind of pressure him. Guys that can grapple as well and guys that kind of throw some volume.”
Woodley faced an uphill battle during his fight with Usman as he was constantly fending off takedown attempts and work from inside the clinch. Over five rounds, Usman dominated Woodley in the grappling exchanges and simply outworked him for the better part of 25 minutes.
Burns then followed up with a similar performance as he came after Woodley for five straight rounds, pressuring the former champion with an aggressive game plan that never allowed the 38-year-old veteran to catch his breath.
Covington is well known for employing a similar tactic where he uses wrestling and a limitless gas tank to come after his opponents from the first second of the opening round until the referee or the final horn stops the fight.
That said, Usman believes that Woodley has a particular skill set that could also give Covington a lot of problems if he’s not ready to deal with the former champion’s ability to dish out punishment to left-handed fighters.
“On the flipside, this is a tremendous matchup for Tyron Woodley because Tyron Woodley is a specialist when it comes to dealing with southpaws,” Usman said. “He knows how to angle off, to kind of guide them into that big right hand that he has.
“Of course, the one thing that I feel like I’m being pulled in again is Tyron is giving me this ‘I’m back, I’m back, I’m back.’ So I’m starting to drink the Kool-Aid again. Maybe the Tyron Woodley of old is back.”
Right now, Usman’s own focus is only on his upcoming title defense against Gilbert Burns in December but he’ll definitely keep an eye on this fight to see who might be climbing back up the ranks for another shot at him.
“I’m intrigued by this matchup,” Usman said. “I can’t wait to see it happen. Two guys that I’m familiar with and I’ll be watching closely.”