On Saturday night, Colby Covington dominated former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler en route to victory in Newark, New Jersey. Once the final bell sounded, Covington climbed the cage and pointed at Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump in celebration while the US president’s sons cheered him on. Moments later, he would begin his post-fight interview with a political statement.
“I was truly inspired when the first family came in the building and came to see me backstage,” Covington said. “Let’s give it up for the Trumps. They’re keeping America great.”
And indeed, several of the Trump siblings were in attendance that night specifically to support Covington – the athletic personification of Trump’s political ideology.
Covington is unlike any other fighter under contract with the UFC. Regularly pictured in Make America Great Again hats or posing alongside adult actresses and models, the fighter has built his brand on using pro-wrestling style “heel” tactics to antagonize a significant portion of UFC’s fanbase while simultaneously cementing himself as a favourite amongst the United States’ rightwing sports demographic. Part troll, part conservative mouthpiece, Covington has said “I’m the great American winning machine. I’m addicted to winning, just like Trump” and has referred to the sitting president as “America’s champion.”
A turning point in Covington’s campaign to become the athletic representation of Trump politics came in August 2018 when the then-UFC interim welterweight champion visited the Oval Office with UFC president Dana White. During the reportedly hour-long visit, Covington posed alongside Trump, who wore the champion’s belt on his shoulder.
“Trump was really cool,” Covington said in 2019. “He kept calling me ‘Champ’. As soon as I gave him the belt he tried to give it back to me. I told him ‘No, Mr President this belt is for you. You are the champion of the American people. You are making this country great again.’”
Like @POTUS @realDonaldTrump always says: Promises made. Promises kept. Pleasure to finally meet you Mr. President. Thank you for always putting America first! #maga #GreatAmericanWinningMachine 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/yYZWkdd5wS
— Colby Covington (@ColbyCovMMA) August 2, 2018
While Covington’s partiality to Trump has helped him stand out amongst a roster packed with nearly 600 fighters, the welterweight antics have also lead to accusations of racism and xenophobia. Following his upset victory over former title contender Demian Maia in October 2017, Covington called Brazil a “dump” and told the local crowd that “all you filthy animals suck” – an incident that led to a confrontation with former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. The Brazilian fighter allegedly attacked Covington with a boomerang outside of a hotel in Australia and was charged with assault as a result. The UFC later released a statement revealing that they were investigating the situation. However, neither fighter faced any repercussions and Covington was allowed to continue spewing hate to promote his fights.
The UFC welterweight has since denied being a racist, instead claiming, “I’m not a racist, I’m just a realist. Just calling it how I see it.” And yet he continued to use xenophobia to strategically place himself in potential title fights. He set his sights on UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, a Nigerian-Muslim fighter who resides in the United States. Covington’s comments led to an altercation between the two men at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. Two days later, Covington told ESPN that he was “not going to press charges” because he disn’t want Usman’s “ass deported back to Nigeria.”
Covington is not the only fighter who has made racist, sexist, or xenophobic statements during his UFC tenure; former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum was forced to apologise for using a homophobic slur in 2017, while superstar Conor McGregor used xenophobia and Islamophobia to provoke lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, Covington is the only fighter who has managed to parlay his racism and political leaning into an opportunity to meet the President of the United States. He is also the only fighter using his platform to regurgitate statements made on the President’s Twitter account, emphasizing his role in the dissemination of Trump’s controversial politics.
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Covington’s Twitter timeline gives us better understanding of his political convictions than his athletic ambitions. He has retweeted posts from Donald Trump Jr claiming that the migrant caravans that arrived at the US-Mexico border from Central America were an “obvious political stunt”, and even told actor Chris Evans to “quit the crying and shut your slimy liberal mouth before I shut it for you #MAGA” when Evans spoke out against Kanye West wearing a MAGA hat.
In June 2018, just two months shy of his visit to the Oval Office, Covington called the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors “losers” and criticized the teams for refusing to visit to the White House following their respective national championships. He underlined his distaste for activism in sports by calling Colin Kaepernick a “spineless sack of shit” along with the hashtag #NikeBoycott, then doubled down by tweeting at NFL players, “You may kneel before me, but be prepared to get slapped if the National Anthem is playing.”
— Colby Covington (@ColbyCovMMA) August 10, 2018
Covington makes his politics clear in his media appearances too. During a recent interview with MMAFighting, Covington hinted that he might speak at the Republican National Convention ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
“That would be a bigger spotlight or any opportunity could ever bring me,” Covington said. “It would be such an honor to speak on President Trump’s behalf at the [Republican National Convention]. I look forward to it. I think there’s a real possibility.”
Covington, of course, is perfectly entitled to his views. Athletes at the other end of the political spectrum, such as Megan Rapinoe and LeBron James, make their opinions clear on social media and in interviews. But the significance of Covington’s relationship with Trump isn’t so much the about the fighter’s views as what it reveals about the President and his family. Trump has called NFL players who peacefully protest “sons of bitches” and warned Rapinoe not to “disrespect” her country.
Yet when Covington expresses his views he gets a personal visit from the President’s sons and a meeting at the White House. On Saturday night, Trump was at it again. Minutes after tweeting about the mass shooting in El Paso, the President’s mind turned to other matters of national significance: he told Covington to go out and “fight hard”.