Colby Covington Beat Tyron Woodley by TKO, but He Put the Fans to Sleep

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2020

Colby Covington reacts after his win against Rafael Dos Anjos during their interim welterweight UFC 225 mixed martial arts bout Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
Jim Young/Associated Press

Well, it wasn't pretty, but...I don't know how to finish this sentence.

Put it this way: The main event of UFC Fight Night 178 Saturday in Las Vegas was a lot more glamorous coming in than it was on the way out. After a protracted war of words, heavy favorite Colby Covington (16-2) defeated Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) by fifth-round TKO following a strange and sudden rib injury—a brutally fitting end to 21-plus minutes of mind-numbing dominance. 

"Kamaru Usman, there's nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide," Covington said to ESPN broadcaster Jon Anik following the win. "You're next!"

Covington also said some other stuff, some of it political in nature and all of it part and parcel of what you'd expect from the unabashed MAGA firebrand. The Usman callout was interesting, though, because Usman, who is the UFC welterweight champion, defeated Covington last year for said title via a fifth-round knockout.

Did Covington's win Saturday justify the rematch? Well, no, but let's take a closer look.

For me, the entire fight can best be summarized in one data point. During the ESPN broadcast, a graphic appeared showing that Covington led Woodley in "clinch strikes landed" by a 60-28 margin. First of all, I'm so sorry that this stat category has to exist. And yet I'm also glad because it very neatly encapsulates the large majority of this contest, especially when you imagine the strikes like a baby swinging a xylophone mallet. 

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In the first round, Covington set the tone with the fight's first offense: a big takedown. No small feat, given Woodley's wrestling base (you may also have heard something about their being training partners, which obviously increases the familiarity factor). Covington went on to go 3 of 8 on takedowns with Woodley going 1 of 1, according to UFC stats

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

There was a lot of pot-shotting early and often, with Covington making some hay with simple punch combinations and kicks to the legs and midsection. Late in the second, a guillotine attempt by Woodley went begging, as did much of his offense, with a late Covington right to the jaw instead punctuating another slow round. Woodley fired that dangerous right hand a few times, but it never seemed to land flush. 

Covington appeared to have a safe 20-18 advantage heading into the third. This dovetailed nicely with Covington's fighting superpower, which is never getting tired. Woodley's corner began loudly exhorting him to stalk forward, but he nevertheless spent much of the third clinched with his back to the fence. At one point, referee Dan Miragliotta seemed poised to issue an inactivity warning. It was that kind of night.

Covington obliged the hovering ref with some stay-busy knees and such, and that was the decidedly low high point of much of this contest from an offensive standpoint. That and the body kicks, which Covington used to good effect throughout and likely damaged Woodley's ribs to the point they finally gave way. In fact, if someone keeps a highlight reel of great moments when body kicks added up, this should definitely be in there. 

Anyway, in the fourth, it was more of the same, with Covington's ground shots drawing blood with about 90 seconds remaining. With all due respect to a champion in Woodley, this was around the time his mind, at least to the entirely unqualified observer who is myself, might have started wandering toward tee times. 

To their credit, Woodley's cornermen, from the gold-standard American Top Team, told him before the fifth that a stoppage was his only path to victory. But it wasn't to be. The bizarre ending came as Covington worked from inside Woodley's guard along the fence. As the two moved for position, Woodley screamed so suddenly it seemed to startle the broadcasters, then shouted "my rib!" until Miragliotta waved it off. (Note: The UFC hasn't specified the injury as this was published, but Woodley was still on the mat receiving medical attention as the broadcast ended.)

It was a great win for Covington, but to me, the evening's top memory was the fight's overall lack of entertainment value. To be frank, this was maybe the boringest fight I can remember in a higher-profile main event. Not even the Covington carnival was enough of a distraction.

According to official UFC statistics, Covington landed 78 of 143 significant strikes for a 54 percent accuracy clip, while Woodley mustered up a 40 percent success rate in landing 34 of 83 strikes. Those aren't terrible numbers, but here's the rub: about a quarter of those strikes came from the clinch. That's a pretty high percentage; much of the time that number doesn't leave single digits. After the third round, Woodley threw a grand total of nine strikes. In round four, Covington outlanded Woodley 113-2 with his shots designed more to maintain activity than inflict damage.

The moldy tennis match of the Woodley-Covington grudge wasn't interesting or unusual enough to move the bout beyond its boringness. That rivalry seems kind of distant now, just another thing that drummed up all those now-familiar emotions but didn't ultimately mean anything.

So, to bring it back to that title shot, I wouldn't think the "story" of this fight or Covington himself is enough to justify his cutting the line. Maybe if he had won this with a big knockout or what have you, but he didn't, so it doesn't. There is genuine heat between Covington and Usman, but Usman seems uninterested in letting Covington dictate the terms of a rematch through the media.

None of this is even to mention a man by the name of Gilbert Burns, who is putting it all together in the UFC and now owns a six-fight win streak, most recently over Woodley. He appears over Covington in the official welterweight rankings. If Covington can get past the world-class jiu-jitsu and ever-improving skill set of Burns, then he'll have a case for that second crack at Usman.

Until then, pass the warm milk.