UFC 244 looked to be the perfect opportunity for a welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. Madison Square Garden would have been the stage for the rivalry. The UFC, instead, went with Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal for the main event.
It was the right call, though, because Covington is not a draw.
When the 31-year-old arrived at UFC 241 in Anaheim, California, the Honda Center crowd erupted into a loud chorus of boos and vulgar chants directed at the former UFC interim welterweight champion.
Ariel Helwani of ESPN, which has exclusive UFC domestic broadcast rights for television and pay-per-view, retweeted video of the scene with the sarcastic caption: "Yeah, you're right, it's totally not working."
But that's the thing, it's not working. While the Honda Center was deafening, the only way to tell if a fighter's schtick is truly working is from tangible figures. When you look at those for Covington, you find that fans really don't care about him.
Not everyone can be a Floyd Mayweather, or even, to a much less successful degree at the box office, Chael Sonnen.
A fighter who people pay to see get beaten up: That's the angle Covington is going for. His right-wing, borderline racist (h/t Deadspin's Patrick Redford) character seems like a perfect persona for the time. Instead, people just hate Covington the person and do not use their dollars to support the gimmick.
The crowd reaction at UFC 241 deserves greater context. Why was it so loud if what Covington is doing is ineffective? It wasn't a card headlined by crossover stars like Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey. It was a hardcore MMA fan's type of pay-per-view. Casual fans were not participating, and casual interest is where superstars are made.
And it was held in Southern California, where the political clash would make fans less likely to accept Covington. The two came together to give a perception he is more than what he truly is as a viable star.
Covington has been the co-main event twice and the main event once. In all three instances, the ratings and PPV buys were lackluster at best. Co-headlining with Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 119 drew a measly 558,000 viewers on Fox Sports 1, per MMAPayout.com's Jason Cruz.
UFC 225, headlined by Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero II, where Covington won interim UFC gold netted just 250,000 buys, per MMAPayout.com's Blue Book. Most concerning is the recent UFC on ESPN event with Covington on the A-side. It drew the lowest ratings of any UFC on ESPN event to date (h/t MMAMania.com's Thomas Meyers).
|UFC on ESPN Ratings|
|UFC on ESPN 1||Ngannou vs. Velasquez||1.463m|
|UFC on ESPN 2||Barboza vs. Gaethje||828,000|
|UFC on ESPN 3||Ngannou vs. Dos Santos||1.091m|
|UFC on ESPN 4||Dos Anjos vs. Edwards||957,000|
|UFC on ESPN 5||Covington vs. Lawler||680,000|
Covington recently appeared on Helwani's MMA Show and said the UFC gave him one offer for the title fight. He didn't take it, and the company moved on (h/t TSN's Aaron Bronsteter).
There is no need for the UFC to negotiate with Covington. Nothing he has done has given them a boost to the bottom line.
Of course, the UFC moved on to Diaz vs. Masvidal. Diaz is a proven star after his clashes with McGregor, and after his return at UFC 241, he moved right back to the top of the bill for the UFC.
Likewise, Masvidal's 2019 has made him one of the hottest fighters in the sport. Millions saw his five-second KO of Ben Askren, and his realness connects with the public. This is the definition of striking while the iron is hot.
It is a fight that sells. Covington does not offer them that same ability. He has no leverage with the UFC. He cannot point to anything on the bottom line of the financial sheet to show his impact.
Covington is nothing but hot air thus far, and nobody is buying in.
Until he can show his character is working for bigger gates, ratings and PPV buys, he cannot get the upper hand in negotiations and the UFC can easily move to the next fighter on the roster.
Diaz-Masvidal was the easy call. When the UFC can look at the potential for financial gain between those two welterweight fights, the one they chose was super-necessary.