Kamaru Usman defended his title by stopping Covington — who argued the fight shouldn’t have been stopped — in the fifth round of their Dec. 14 bout. UFC president Dana White was impressed by the challenger, but he’ll have other names to consider, including Leon Edwards and the winner of the proposed Nate Diaz–Jorge Masvidal rematch. The UFC ranks Covington as the No. 2 challenger behind Gilbert Burns, who fights Usman later this year, so Covington definitely would be in the conversation.
But Woodley can end that discussion with a win, which would snap a two-fight losing streak. And he has gotten some help in recent weeks from a person very familiar with his opponent. Masvidal, who once trained and lived with Covington, helped Woodley train for Saturday’s fight. Will that be a factor?
The co-main event shouldn’t lack fireworks, with Donald Cerrone facing Niko Price. Both men are aggressive strikers and are looking to return to the win column, especially Cerrone, who has lost four straight. Cerrone is 37 with a ton of mileage on his body, and he’s admitted retirement doesn’t seem as far away as it used to. How will Saturday’s fight impact that?
Khamzat Chimaev, on the other hand, is just getting started. He made history in July by winning twice in the Octagon in an 11-day span. Those were the 26-year-old’s first two UFC fights, and he dominated in both of them. So impressive was Chimaev that White not only booked him for Saturday against Gerald Meerschaert but again in November against Demian Maia.
Talk about fast track. But will that lead to a title shot for Chimaev in the near future?
ESPN’s MMA experts Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim take a look at these topics and address what’s real or not.
Real or not: If Colby Covington wins, he’ll get another title shot next
Helwani: It depends, but I think it’s unlikely.
So, let’s go in order here: Let’s say Covington defeats Woodley. In order to be in consideration, Covington has to beat Woodley impressively and probably finish him.
OK, let’s say he does that. Then let’s say Kamaru Usman beats Gilbert Burns. I’d say that will significantly decrease the chances of Covington getting the next title shot. I just don’t think there is a market for a rematch so soon. So, that would be that.
But let’s say Burns wins. Would Usman get an immediate rematch? Unless it’s a controversial loss, I’d say no.
But then there’s the Jorge Masvidal-Nathan Diaz winner, and/or Leon Edwards, and who knows who else emerges between now and then. Would Covington get a shot over those guys? I have a hard time envisioning that happening.
Obviously, crazier things have and could happen (injuries, timelines, contract negotiations, etc.), but my general feeling is regardless of how he wins, if he wins, Covington would have to win at least one more fight to get another title shot.
Real or not: Training with Jorge Masvidal will give Tyron Woodley an edge
Raimondi: Absolutely real. Now, that’s not to say that it means Woodley should be favored over Covington, or anything like that. But yes, Woodley training with Masvidal — who was Covington’s best friend and chief training partner for years — will absolutely help Woodley on Saturday.
Tyron Woodley discusses training with Jorge Masvidal again and how Masvidal motivated him to clear up “toxic” things in his life.
Woodley and Covington have trained together before, but that was years ago — before Covington was even in the UFC. Any knowledge gained then likely won’t come into play much six years later. But Masvidal? He was training with Covington regularly up until 2018. That isn’t too long ago. It’s fair to say Masvidal knows Covington about as well as anyone. They lived together. There are likely things Masvidal knows about Covington (and vice versa) that no one else does. If the opportunity were there for Woodley to pick Masvidal’s brain, of course he had to take it. And it should give Woodley an extra something that maybe he didn’t have coming into the fight initially.
I did speak with Covington last week about Masvidal going to St. Louis to be part of Woodley’s camp. Covington brushed it off, saying the only thing Masvidal could teach Woodley was how to lose to Covington — because that’s all Masvidal ever did in practice, Covington said. Even if that were true, Masvidal has the chance to give Woodley at least some kind of intel he would not have normally had.
In a matchup of two of the best welterweights in the world, with Woodley, the former UFC champ, trying to snap a two-fight losing streak, every little bit helps. It would be hard to argue that having Masvidal as a sounding board at the gym wouldn’t help Woodley in some way. It’s definitely an edge that Woodley would not have had otherwise.
Real or not: 2021 will be Donald Cerrone’s last year fighting in the UFC
Okamoto: I’m going with “not real” on this one … but we might cut it close. I do think if it’s not 2021, the final time we see Cerrone is 2022. He admitted to me, in an interview earlier this year, that he can see “the end of the tunnel” and that he probably has only a “couple years [left], and that’s pushing it.” Well, what’s one thing we know about Cowboy Cerrone? He’s a guy who’s gonna push it. He’s going to push that line. He will, most likely, stick around longer than many think he should. That’s how he has operated his entire career. He has taken the quick turnaround fights, even when his management told him perhaps he should sit and wait for a better fight. That’s Cowboy. That’s why fans love him. He’s lost four in a row, but if you look at it, he’s lost to Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor and Anthony Pettis. Not like he’s getting walked over by lesser talent. And a lot of people thought he won his last fight against Pettis. Bottom line, I think Cowboy will fight beyond 2021, but not by much.
Real or not: Khamzat Chimaev will have fought for the belt or have a title shot booked by this time next year
Wagenheim: Whoa, hold your horses. The man has been in the UFC for all of two months. Yeah, this coming weekend Chimaev will make his third appearance inside the Octagon, so at his swift pace he might have a dozen UFC fights under his belt by this time next year. And it wouldn’t take him that many victories to land a title shot, especially with the Chechnya-born Swede quickly having established himself as a Dana White favorite. That matters. The UFC president will feed Chimaev a big opportunity the first chance he gets.
But Chimaev has a ways to go before he’ll be staring across the cage at 170-pound king Kamaru Usman. His opponent for next Saturday, Gerald Meerschaert, is a step up in competition, despite having lost four of his past six fights. And if Chimaev passes that test, he’ll really step up next time. White has already let it be known that if Chimaev wins next weekend, he would be booked against jiu-jitsu master Demian Maia. Good luck with that, Khamzat. The UFC clearly has plans for Chimaev, but the promotion had plans for Edmen Shahbazyan and Sean O’Malley, too, and both hit dose-of-reality roadblocks in their most recent fights. So I’m not projecting a title shot for Chimaev until I see him defeat someone who resides somewhere in the high-altitude land of contenders.