Column: Colby Covington insists his heel turn into a Trump-loving villain isn’t an act
Colby Covington likes President Trump.
That doesn’t make him unique. Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Covington, however, wasn’t one of them. He didn’t vote.
“In 2016 I didn’t vote because the media made it seem like it was over,” Covington said. “All the polls said it was over and he had no chance so I didn’t vote.”
That hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most polarizing figures as arguably the president’s biggest champion in the sports world. Covington showed up to a media event for Saturday’s UFC 245 in Las Vegas holding a Trump 2020 hat in one hand and Donald Trump Jr.’s book, “Triggered,” in the other. During the event, Covington opened the book so everyone could see the cover but never actually turned the page during the 30-minute interview session.
When someone asked him to explain how “Trump derangement syndrome” relates to his life, Covington looked up and smirked like a child who had been caught fibbing.
“The thing about this great book,” Covington, 31, said as he searched for the words to describe it. “…It’s about triggering snowflakes and I… usually I’m spoiling movies on Twitter but I’m not going to spoil this. You guys have to go out there and get this book and find out for yourself.”
He wasn’t very convincing.
The way Covington, who was born in Clovis, Calif., sees it, his transition from mild-mannered collegiate wrestler to over-the-top professional wrestling heel happened out of necessity. After he defeated Dong Hyun Kim on June 17, 2017 in Singapore, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby told Dan Lambert, Covington’s agent, that the company would not be re-signing Covington after his next fight.
Colby Covington discusses what motivates him.
“I told him what I was told,” Lambert said. “He wasn’t going to be re-signed and we had one fight left and I asked for that fight to be in Brazil against a bigger name I was fairly certain he was going to be able to beat. I told Colby, ‘You need to change something between now and then or you’re going to get cut. There’s only so much you can change your fighting style from one fight to the next, so it’s not going to be that. So change something else.’ ”
While Lambert didn’t tell Covington to morph into a villain, he didn’t necessarily have to. Both were already big pro wrestling fans and Lambert has over 100 pro wrestling championship belts displayed at his home. Before traveling to Brazil for what would be a make-or-break fight against Demian Maia, Lambert and Covington actually participated in a pro wrestling angle for TNA, founded by WWE hall of famer Jeff Jarrett.
“From the first time I saw him, Colby had this energy, arrogance and charisma that was off the charts,” said Jarrett, who is now a WWE executive. “He jumped in and wanted to be a part of things. He has a God-given gift that translates quickly on camera. He has a smirk and personality that you just can’t teach. Colby has more charisma in his sleep than most MMA fighters do when they’re awake.”
After Covington defeated Maia on Oct. 28, 2017, he “turned heel” as they say in professional wrestling. He got on the microphone and said, “Brazil, you’re a dump... you filthy animals suck.”
The fans in Sao Paulo booed him and showered him with debris on his way back to the locker room. Covington’s parents were mortified. Lambert just smiled, knowing Covington had probably earned a new contract.
“It was insane but it was a throwback to pro wrestling,” Lambert said. “I knew there was going to be blowback, but as a wrestling fan who likes the entertainment angle on top of the fights, I thought this could be fun.”
Covington, who will face Kamaru Usman in the main event of UFC 245 for the welterweight championship, dismisses the notion that he is playing a character. He said he’s just showcasing an amplified version of himself. He said he really does like Trump, plans to campaign and vote for him 2020, and simply ditched whatever filter he had before when the cameras are on.
President Trump is locked in a struggle with Republican leaders over plans for his Senate impeachment trial.
“I’m not playing a character, “I’m just being real.” Covington said Thursday as he wore a red, white and blue suit, a Trump/Pence 2020 shirt and held a red Make America Great Again cap. "I’m not afraid to speak my mind and speak what I really think inside. Before I was keeping those thoughts in because I was worried about how people would judge me, how the media would react, how the UFC would judge me for it. Now I don’t [care]. I couldn’t care less what they think of me. At the end of the day I’m what’s good for this sport and I’m making money for this company.”
Usman, however, isn’t buying it. He thinks Covington is simply trying to find a soft landing spot in the public eye if he loses on Saturday.
“It’s a gimmick and he absolutely does not believe in the gimmick,” Usman said. “He knows what’s about to take place. He’s trying to find a way out so people don’t hate him when he loses.”
Covington doesn’t plan on losing, but either way he would like to dip his toes into the pro wrestling world next year. He said he would like to factor into the company’s plans at either WrestleMania or SummerSlam, the WWE’s two biggest pay-per-view events.
Sadiqua Bynum had a decorated gymnastics career at UCLA. Now she’s Regina King’s stunt double on HBO’s ‘Watchmen’
Jim Ross, who was the head of talent relations for WWE when it signed some of its biggest stars, said Covington was “smart to strike while his iron is hot by using Trump as a catalyst. He’s a lightning rod now and the media loves controversy. Any MMA fighter or pro wrestler who doesn’t master the art of self-promotion is bound to need a second job.”
If Covington defeats Usman on Saturday, he said he would refuse to let UFC president Dana White put the championship belt around his waist, as is the tradition for a new champion. After a contentious contract negotiation that delayed this fight several times, Covington may take his act elsewhere if things don’t change.
“I feel like I’m in my prime,” Covington said. “If the UFC treats me good, I’ll be here for another 5-6 years but if they keep treating me like they’ve been treating me, you’ll probably see me in WWE sooner rather than later.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.