The story of how close friends became bitter enemies…or did they?
It isn’t often that the headliner of a PPV card doesn’t feature a championship bout. It’s even rarer when said bout doesn’t feature Conor McGregor. So when it happens, you know it’s a fight that has a lot of momentum behind it.
Colby “Chaos” Covington vs. Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal is a matchup that seems years in the making. Everyone knew that at some point, these two would square up against each other inside the Octagon. It was simply a matter of when.
Well, the when is decided. The former friends turned bitter rivals will settle their differences in the cage for the main event of UFC 272, happening this March from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. While the event originally planned to feature Volkanovski vs. Holloway 3, an injury took that bout off the table. In stepped Covington and Masvidal.
The tale of two friends, comrades in combat, falling out of favor with one another isn’t a foreign one in the MMA world. Kamaru Usman defended his belt against former teammate and friend, Gilbert Burns. Jon Jones and Rashad Evans were good friends and training partners under Greg Jackson, until light heavyweight gold was on the line. A similarly heated storyline transpired between bantamweight champions Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw. MMA is so brutal that it even pitted adopted brothers against one another in the battle between Ken and Frank Shamrock.
One thing is clear: mixed-martial arts is not a team sport. Sometimes, friendships have to be put aside. More often than not, when that happens, the relationship is warped into something malignant.
Keeping this in mind, the feud between Covington and Masvidal isn’t an unfamiliar storyline in this sport. However, there are interesting threads in this saga that call into question just how much animosity there is between the two talented welterweights. Do these two really hate each other as much as they claim to now?
They’re certainly trying to sell the point. Of his imminent bout against Masvidal, Covington stated “I’m definitely taking at least five years off of his life. This beef is more personal and more hatred than I’ve ever had for anything in my entire life.” Jorge echoed similar sentiments himself, stating “A lot of people said what I did to Ben [Askren] was a little uncalled for. No, it wasn’t. What I’m going to do to Colby is going to be uncalled for. I’m going to put my life on that.”
How did it get to this point? After all, these are former roommates and training partners at American Top Team. The two used to spend a ton of time together, with videos of the two being buddy-buddy floating about the internet. One surfaced recently of Covington giddy with joy after Masvidal won a fight.
The source of the feud seems to be a payment dispute between Colby and his coaches at ATT. According to Masvidal, it all started after Covington refused to pay his team after beating Demian Maia back at UFC Fight Night 119. This happened to be the event where Colby turned full-on WWE heel, calling Brazil a dump and Brazilians filthy animals to a Brazilian audience.
Covington hasn’t shied away from the heel character since, often engaging in trash talk that many believe has crossed the lines on more than one occasion. While Colby has successfully made half (or more) of the MMA fanbase hate his guts, those familiar with the inspiration behind the character understand that it’s all an act.
The UFC brass allegedly told Covington that he was bound to be cut before that fateful night against Maia, despite going 7-1 in the promotion. The previously soft-spoken, sportsmanlike Covington simply didn’t generate enough buzz for the UFC to want to keep him around. So he adopted a character that turned him into one of the most polarizing - and headline generating - figures in the sport.
While Covington donned a MAGA cap, Masvidal built his brand around keepin’ it real. The goon from Miami was a hardened, streetwise badass who wasn’t afraid to shut people up if they stepped out of line. This mashed perfectly with Covington’s new persona, creating ample back-and-forth trash talk between the two welterweights.
So, what’s the basis for claiming that the heated rivalry is more of a charade akin to Covington’s invented persona? For starters, it’s the business itself. These are prize fighters, after all. When the final bell rang at UFC 268 and Covington and Usman stepped in close for a word, Colby actually apologized to the man he supposedly hated. In fact, he said “I’m just trying to sell it for you…I’ve always had love for you. I’m just trying to make you money…We’re going to get paid.”
In that moment of clarity between two rivals who just beat the crap out of each other for 25 minutes, Covington dropped the act and shared a heartfelt moment with a peer. It’s hard to claim that the act hasn’t worked for him, either, as his upcoming bout with Masvidal is one of the few instances of a non-championship bout headlining a PPV event.
Masvidal has also been suspected of fishing for paydays, though not quite as rambunctiously as Covington. When Conor McGregor fought Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, Masvidal sat ringside wearing a Versace robe that the Irish superstar had worn during the buildup to his boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather. Although the hook didn’t sink in, many believed that Masvidal donning the robe was an attempt to bait McGregor into a showdown that surely would have been the biggest payday of Gamebred’s career.
Make no doubt about it, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal know how to play the game. Not just the fighting part of the fight game, but the media part of the fight game. The men know how to build brands and sell fights, and the supposed hatred between the two could just be a carefully calculated farce to sell more tickets.
Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence pointing to the two remaining friends behind the curtain is actually both the fighter’s link to former president Donald Trump. Colby Covington famously utilized Trump’s brand as part of his persona, donning ‘MAGA’ hats to press conferences and often citing the 45th president as a personal inspiration. It was no surprise when Trump invited Covington to the White House after winning the interim welterweight championship against Rafael Dos Anjos.
After meeting his presidential idol, Covington formed a close relationship with Donald Trump Jr., keeping his ties to the White House strong. A few years later, during the 2020 Presidential election campaign, Jorge Masvidal famously endorsed Trump. He used his clout with the Cuban community in Florida in campaign efforts to win the vital swing state for the Republican candidate.
While it’s purely speculative, it’s not a stretch to imagine Covington floating the idea of connecting his ‘former’ friend Jorge Masvidal with the Trumps to help them in their re-election campaign. What are the odds that two men who hate each other would both campaign for the same politician? Especially one as prominent and controversial as Donald Trump.
So while there is no definitive way to know, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the rivalry between the two is a show and behind closed doors, the two remain close friends. Perhaps the conclusion of the fight will give us more answers; will the two embrace and share kind words, as did Covington and Usman in their rematch?
Whether the animosity is genuine or manufactured, one thing is for certain: the main event of UFC 272 is sure to be electric.