Colby “Chaos” Covington was finally bringing the championship belt home to Springfield after nearly four years in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The next step was taking the belt to President Donald Trump.
“I told everybody I was going to make the welterweight division great again,” Covington said in a press conference after he won the belt. “And now I’m going to celebrate how a real American should celebrate winning a world title, and that’s going to the White House to see Mr. Donald Trump and put this on his desk.”
He added: “Unlike the Filthadelphia Eagles disrespecting our country’s flag by kneeling for the National Anthem.”
Becoming a UFC champion was a sure thing for Covington. He knew he’d taken the title even before the judges’ scores were announced. With his right eye swollen from the fight, he swayed while awaiting the final verdict.
As the announcer teased the results, Covington raised his left arm, expecting victory.
He’d beaten Rafael Dos Anjos by unanimous decision at the June 9 UFC 225 event in Chicago for the welterweight division interim title. He’d proven his online critics wrong. He was championship caliber.
The belt is essentially a temporary title. Although UFC’s recognized champion is Tyron Woodley, who hasn’t defended his title in more than a year, Covington immediately called his title the “real championship belt.”
Interim or not, he wanted to fulfill another promise: bring the belt to Trump’s desk in the Oval Office.
The capacity audience at the match, shrouded in darkness except for the occasional swinging spotlight, didn’t hide its contempt. The crowd shot back with boos and jeers.
Covington doubled down during the post-fight press conference. Donning aviator shades and a bespoke checkered suit with a U.S. flag pin, he loudly cherished each sip from his “nerd tears” water bottle, filled thanks to the “nerds and virgins” from Instagram and Twitter users.
Covington says he’s one of the most hated fighters in UFC. His trash talking, Trump loving and Twitter trolling comes across as genuine, but it also serves a goal: To become the best fighter in the world, so he can give back to his community.
A hometown hero
A few weeks after his interim title bout, I visited Covington in the outskirts of Springfield’s Thurston neighborhood. As I walked up to the front door, a nearly six-foot-tall figure greeted me with a smile — a contrast to how Covington presents himself in the limelight.
Wearing tailored sweatpants and a workout shirt, he looked ready to train right after our meeting. A bandage was stuck above his right eye, but he says this wasn’t a relic from the Dos Anjos fight. It was a recent injury incurred while sparring with his partner.
Inside the house, there are a few pictures on the walls, but it’s mostly barren. For furniture, there’s a big screen television, a couple of video games lying on the entertainment center, two couches and a coffee table with Xbox controllers on it.
It’s not the house you’d expect a UFC champion to live in; it’s more a typical bachelor pad, which he shares with a friend. Then again, Covington does spend most of his time training in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Right after I walk inside, he shows off what he’d told me he’d bring back to Oregon: the UFC championship belt. He takes it out of its black canvas bag and hands it over to me.
Without the pomp and circumstance of a UFC event, the belt looks fake at first — as if it’s actually made out of plastic. But, as it rests in my hands, I’m surprised that all of this gold weighs more than I expected.
When Covington speaks, he reveals a calm nature. He speaks softly and with nostalgia when he reflects on the party he had with close friends and family after winning the championship — turning down the Chicago clubs that offered large sums of money for him to appear at their after-party.
But a fire burns immediately within him when talking about his American pride, respecting the presidency, and the fighters and fans that criticize him.
I first met Covington in 2016 before he had grabbed the attention of the mixed martial arts (MMA) community. I was surprised how open he was to the idea of someone to writing about his journey in UFC. And, despite his current trash talking, he’s still that same nice guy.
‘I’m fighting for the people who love me: Springfield, Eugene, 541, all of Oregon. That’s who I fight for.’
He invited me to attend a Thurston High School’s wrestling team practice back in 2016. I hadn’t been to a wrestling practice before, but I felt an extra buzz in the tiny, stuffy room above the high school’s basketball court.
At that time, Covington had his leg in a cast and was forced to hobble upstairs to visit his alma matter.
“That’s how you do it,” he said with enthusiasm, watching a student squirrel his way out of a hold.
The student later beamed with pride, knowing a UFC fighter gave him some praise. It seemed every student in the wrestling club wanted to hear his commentary.
After practice, Covington gave a quick pep talk, telling the kids he’d return to Oregon with the championship belt.
Sure, he’s viewed as one of the most hated people in UFC right now, but he gives back to the community where he got his start in wrestling.
Covington, 30, was born in California, but he talks about Thurston as the area where he grew up. He attended Thurston schools all the through high school. He learned to wrestle at Thurston Mat Club (then called McKenzie Mat Club).
“I went from a kid who was 100 pounds in freshman year, getting bullied and picked on. No one liked me. I was the nerd. It’s funny. The roles are reversed now. I was the nerd getting bullied. Now I’m the jock — everybody thinks — and I’m bullying everybody.”
Thurston gave Covington the foundation to launch into UFC, and his name still hangs in the gym. He holds records at Thurston High School for the most takedowns in a season (228). As a senior, he brought home the state title in 2006. He also helped the school bring home two conference titles.
Covington went on to wrestle for Oregon State University, where he was a two-time NCAA All-American and Pac-10 champion.
“I’d die for Thurston,” he says. “I’d go broke so Thurston could keep going.”
He’s been a donor to Thurston High School’s wrestling team, providing funds for materials and travel. Rather than requesting appearance fees like other UFC fighters, who he says charge upwards of $5,000, Covington donates his time to meet with wrestling clubs when he’s in town — which he’s done for schools in Eugene, Springfield and throughout Lane County.
“I’m going for free, I’m going to teach some kids some wrestling and I’m going to give them a talk,” he says about heading to Sweet Home. “This is Oregon. This is what I represent.”
You won’t find this on his social media because, Covington says, he believes that if you’re genuinely giving back, you shouldn’t be doing it for the attention.
“I’m fighting for the people who love me: Springfield, Eugene, 541, all of Oregon. That’s who I fight for,” he says.
The mind of the ultimate fighter
When Covington isn’t home in Oregon, he’s following the personality styles of some of World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) greatest “heels” like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Ric Flair.
Being a heel isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means you see things differently and you’re following a different strategy to the same end goal that the good guy wants.
Ironically, for Covington, his narratives about respecting the president would have been something you would’ve heard the flag-waving Hulk Hogan say in the early 1990s as he wrestled Sgt. Slaughter, who betrayed the U.S. to become an Iraqi sympathizer as the U.S. was about to invade Iraq for the first time.
A big part of professional wrestling isn’t the action. It’s about making the audience care about whether they want to see you win or get beaten by the good guy. And that happens by talking and presentation.
Covington might not have inspired the youth of today like Hogan did. Instead, he’s pissed off a lot of people, but by doing so he has the attention of the MMA community.
The reason why Covington’s presentation comes across a bit like a wrestler is because he’s had the help of professional wrestler and fitness expert Stevie Richards. Richards wrestled for WWE, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and has learned from former WCW wrestler Raven, as well as ECW and WWE personality Paul Heyman.
When Richards joined the team, it wasn’t announced that he was there to work on Covington’s skills on the microphone. They had to keep that fact secret because if people knew that Covington was working with a professional wrestler, no one would believe anything he said.
In reality, though, Richards’ coaching is just like what any strength or conditioning coach would do in terms of giving suggestions on fight performance.
On #NerdBash2018: ‘I started to think about it, and it was all these nerds and virgins. They’re the people in their mom’s basement trying to play matchmaker on the internet. You’re all little Cheetos-eating dorks.’
Richards says Covington is telling the truth and he’s not afraid to do what he wants to do — like supporting one of the most divisive presidents of all time.
Covington has the wins to back up the trash talking, too, says Dave Meltzer, who covers professional wrestling and MMA and runs the publication Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Now that Covington has proven to fans that he can win, it’s OK if he loses on occasion — because he’s a “top guy,” Meltzer adds.
The welterweight division (with a fighter’s weight ranging from 156 to 170 pounds) in UFC is one of the hardest divisions because it contains athletes with a diversity of fighting styles, Meltzer tells EW.
“So many styles, so many killers,” he says.
But by combining trash talking and a stellar UFC record of 14 wins and one loss, Covington has gone on to climb to the division’s top UFC rank.
Meltzer doesn’t think Covington has changed the game of MMA but, instead, he’s used the power of social media to say things that cause outrage.
Covington’s plan was to address all of the “haters” — whom he calls “nerds” — on the internet with the hashtag campaign: #NerdBash2018.
“I started to think about it, and it was all these nerds and virgins,” he says. “They’re the people in their mom’s basement trying to play matchmaker on the internet. You’re all little Cheetos-eating dorks.”
These are the fans who try to act like a booker or pretend that they know what it takes to win a fight, Covington adds. In other words, they’re armchair fighters — just like an armchair quarterback.
He started calling out UFC fighters, posting spoilers on Twitter for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Avengers: Infinity War and continuing a heated relationship with Brazil (during a UFC event in Brazil, people threw trash and booed him and he shot back calling them “filthy animals”).
He’s attacked the mainstream sports world when he called the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, who were then battling it out in the NBA Finals, a “bunch of losers” for not wanting to bring the championship to the White House.
The strategy is effective.
I missed his June championship fight, but I watched as UFC fans reacted on Twitter. Just like any great professional wrestling heel, the fans still expressed hatred for him, but they knew he was a fighter who could hold his own.
It sounds rough, but Covington says the UFC business is all about selling out pay-per-view events, and he’s just trying to sell himself to a larger audience — whether it’s liberals who want to see him get knocked out or conservatives who want to see their guy win.
His methods seem to offend some people. But he’s not trying to be a bully. It’s just business.
“I’m getting locked up in a steel cage and the goal is to take the other guy’s brain cells,” Covington says. “[UFC fans] want blood from me. They want to see me get knocked unconscious.”
Mr. Covington goes to Washington
Covington wasn’t planning on parading his belt around when he was in Oregon. Sure, he had a few visits to make, but the visit he looked forward to the most was waiting on the UFC. He couldn’t wait to bring it to Trump.
“You go to the White House and be a proud American,” he tells Eugene Weekly. “Doesn’t matter what side of the political race I’m on. I’m proud to be American — red, white and blue.”
He adds: “I fight for 541, Oregon and, more importantly, number one is the troops.”
Bringing the belt to the Washington, D.C. is a pretty big achievement, considering it wasn’t long since Sen. John McCain called UFC “human cockfighting” and wanted to outlaw the combat sport.
But, Covington adds, he would’ve done the same if Hillary Clinton were in the White House.
He brought the championship belt on July 30, to a live taping of RAW, WWE’s weekly Monday night television show. He was originally going to be front row for the show, but his old teammate and current WWE superstar Bobby Lashley invited him backstage.
While there, Covington took a photo with former UFC champion Ronda Rousey — who’s now been taking the professional wrestling world by storm — and former WWE champion Jinder Mahal.
A few days afterwards, on Aug. 2, with the help of UFC President Dana White, Covington finally brought the belt to Trump — and the White House bumped him in front of the Washington Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup this year.
Thanks to the UFC, the world now has a photo of Trump with a large gold-faced championship belt slung over his left shoulder while giving thumbs up in the Oval Office. All of this is happening as Thomas Jefferson looks down from the wall and the bust of Abraham Lincoln stares at the floor.
Covington shared the photo on Twitter and echoed Trump’s campaign slogan: “Promises Made. Promises Kept” and threw in a #MAGA.
“Best day of my life, hanging with the president cracking jokes in the Oval Office,” he told me in a direct message on Twitter.
Covington also shared some of the conversation he and Trump had on Twitter: Trump kept calling him “champ.” After Trump posed with Covington, he gave him back the belt.
“No, Mr. President. This belt’s for you. You’re the champion of the people,” the Tweet said.
Covington told EW that it was lot of fun kicking it with Trump, adding that he’s just “a regular guy.”
“It was like hanging out with a friend,” he says. “Trump gets a lot of criticism. He loves this country. He’s trying to make this country great again.”
But the story gets more complicated, as UFC decided whether or not to strip Covington of the belt — the title he took to WWE and gave a replica of to Trump — since he would need time off to rest from surgery.
“Fake news,” he told me in a direct message on Twitter.
He went on to say it wasn’t in his best interest to fight in two title matches in three months.
“They trying to scare me but it ain’t gonna work, ’cause take my belt I’m still here and not going anyway anytime soon,” he adds.
Before Covington attended a WWE event and met Trump in August, MMA news outlets began to report that Covington needed nasal surgery in late July.
Then, the weekend before his WWE appearance and meeting with Trump, UFC President Dana White made the decision to strip Covington of the interim belt because he was unable to fight Woodley — the UFC recognized champion.
White added that the interim belt just means Covington is actually the number-one contender and that he would get the chance to fight for the belt.
Meltzer tells EW he couldn’t believe they would strip someone of the belt, and then have them go on to meet with WWE superstars and pose with Trump in the White House.
Covington still denied it the last time I talked to him.
“I didn’t get stripped of shit — that’s fake news,” he says.
Stevie Richards, who helped Covington work an audience like a professional wrestler, says the belt-stripping debacle is a great opportunity to grow beyond the organization. In fact, it could be possible to see Covington become someone like Conor McGregor — a brash-talking Scottish MMA fighter who’s grown into a media icon and international personality.
If his star power expands to McGregor’s level, Eugene could see itself benefit. Covington says he hopes to have UFC hold an event in Eugene, and that the UFC is listening to him.
The only thing that would hold that back would be the University of Oregon — who controls the largest stadium: Matthew Knight Arena.
Because that’s why Covington fights. That’s why he brought Trump the championship belt. That’s why he does #NerdBash2018. He does it for business, so he can then give back. ■