Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

UFC 245: Champion Kamaru Usman says Colby Covington's mental weakness has been exposed before title clash

Trash talk adds spice to welterweight grudge match in Las Vegas

Unlike many sports, Mixed Martial Arts doesn't have a defined "season", but the UFC's annual December pay-per-view shows always have the air of an end-of-year extravaganza about them, and Saturday's event in Las Vegas is no different.

UFC 245 features a triple-header of world title fights with the organisation's welterweight, featherweight and women's bantamweight titles on the line on a huge night at the T-Mobile Arena.

The main event features a bona fide grudge match for the UFC welterweight title, as reigning champion Kamaru Usman looks to complete the first successful defence of his crown against the controversial former interim champion, Colby Covington.

Over the past two years Covington has reinvented himself as Mixed Martial Arts' pre-eminent troll character, a Donald Trump-loving persona whose penchant for trash talk has seen him earn visits to the White House to meet the US President, while at the same time becoming the most polarising fighter in the UFC.

The talented former All-American collegiate wrestler is riding a seven-fight win streak in the UFC heading into Saturday's title clash, but his impressive performances inside the octagon have been overshadowed by his rhetoric away from the cage, and in particular his unsavory comments made about Usman's deceased former manager Glenn Robinson, who died of a heart attack in 2018.

His comment that Robinson would be "watching from hell" prompted Robinson's family to issue a statement condemning Covington's trash talk, saying: “We understand the excitement of building up hype before a fight, but we are sure Colby Covington can get press for his coming fight on his own merit and without spewing hateful words towards our father."

Despite Covington's constant verbal jabs, defending champion Usman has remained calm and relaxed in the build-up to the fight, and cut a chilled-out figure at a fighter Q&A session. And, after hearing the Covington had admitted in a prior interview that his over-the-top persona was – as many had expected – an act, Usman simply explained that it showed a weakness in the challenger's psyche.

"If you're putting on an act, you've gotta sell that," he said. "But that just lets me know there's a weakness.

"Come on, let's dissect this thing. You're already finding a way out: 'Once I get beat up on Saturday, don't hate me because I was just putting on an act because they were going to cut me'.

"He's doing that, but do you realise when I fought (then-UFC welterweight champion) Tyron Woodley here in this same building, he showed up at somebody's open workout? If you want to be the champ, you go to show up at the champ's open workout and try to distract them, right? Why did he show up at mine?

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"Because he knew it was gonna happen. He knew I was the most dangerous guy in the division and he knew that was the fight he didn't want.

"So he's already been showing his cards for a long time. Why am I so relaxed? I'm relaxed because I know what I'm gonna do."

The simmering tension between Usman and Covington will serve as a stark contrast with the night's co-main event, as two rather more laid-back stars face off for the UFC's 145-pound title.

Reigning featherweight king Max Holloway hasn't lost a featherweight fight since 2013, but faces a strong test of his championship status against surging Australian contender Alexander Volkanovski, whose six-year, 17-fight win streak – including recent wins over longtime contender Chad Mendes and former world champion Jose Aldo – has catapulted him into a title fight this weekend.

The pair are both respectful of each other's abilities, and the common consensus is they may need all five rounds to decide a victor on Saturday night.

The third title fight of the night will see the greatest female athlete in the history of the sport look to maintain her position as a two-division world champion as Brazil's Amanda Nunes puts her women's bantamweight title on the line against the Netherlands' former UFC women's featherweight champion Germane de Randamie.

Nunes, who holds the UFC's women's titles at both bantamweight and featherweight, has defeated every woman to ever hold UFC championship gold at both 135 and 145 pounds, including a pair of first-round knockout wins against former UFC female superstars Ronda Rousey and Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

Now "The Lioness" will look to register a second win over de Randamie following her victory in their first meeting back in 2013.

Updated: December 14, 2019 09:25 AM

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