Ranking the 4 Best Opponents for Colby Covington's Next Fight

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterApril 22, 2022

Colby Covington
Colby CovingtonMike Roach/Getty Images

It's been official for a little while now. If Colby Covington isn't your pick for the biggest heel on the UFC roster, you're either overthinking or underthinking, though only the former seems fully realistic. That's what being a no-brainer is all about, and when it comes to UFC heels, Covington is the biggest no-brainer we've seen in quite a while.

How do we know? It's not the boos or even the cheers for his well-documented and oft-bigoted public persona. It's not the public criticism or the social media followings. It's the number of top fighters who want to fight him—or at least entertain matchmaking ideas they'd normally ignore or dismiss out of hand.

The most recent top guy to call him out? Belal Muhammad, after his decisioning last Saturday of Vicente Luque, was ready to call Covington's name as soon as the man with the microphone gave him his opening.

"I'm going to stop calling for the champ 'cause nobody wants to give me that shot," Muhammad told broadcaster Daniel Cormier after the fight. "So let me get the big mouth Karen, Colby Covington. He's out here calling out 155ers. Come fight a real 170-pounder, you coward."

But what about the others? Here we've ranked Covington's biggest callouts—given and received—to see what's realistic and where we would be most likely to see some fireworks.


4. Belal Muhammad

Welcome to the top five, Belal Muhammad. Neither eye injuries nor plodding decisions nor Luque could keep Muhammad from attaining bona fide contender status at welterweight.

After Saturday's win, which avenged a loss back in 2016, Muhammad gave the distinct impression he had Covington's name chambered and ready well before his plane ever left for Las Vegas.

Muhammad is now unbeaten in eight straight, and he fought a smart fight Saturday, hitting impeccably timed takedowns and flashing nifty footwork over long stretches of the fight. His pressure game would make for an iron-on-iron matchup with Covington, the notorious pressure-fighter with the bottomless gas tank.

I'd watch the heck out of this fight. But even though Muhammad's nickname is "Remember the Name," he may not have the brand recognition (or the super-high-octane fight style) of the other big hitters on the Covington radar.


3. Dustin Poirier

This is the one Covington wants.

"I just took care of Miami street trash; now it's time to take care of Louisiana swamp trash," Covington said last month after defeating Jorge Masvidal at UFC 272. "Where you at Dustin Poirier? ... Name the site."

Poirier has plenty of power at lightweight, and he's more skilled than Covington on the feet.

Takedowns, though, now those may get Poirier in trouble. He wouldn't be able to keep the larger Covington off him for three rounds, let alone five.

Covington knows full well that he is a mismatch for Poirier. High-profile opponent, winnable fight, exciting matchup in and out of the cage, bankable payday, no downside.

Well, there might be a downside. While Poirier is in theory as game as always (and not one to turn up his nose at the prospect of a juicy paycheck), he and UFC Prez Dana White seem to prefer a different path for Covington, one that doesn't involve the company's biggest heel mauling its biggest babyface.


2. Israel Adesanya

Another one where a weight shuttling would be needed, but it might not be enough to derail a collision between arguably the sport's two largest non-Conor McGregor stars.

Israel Adesanya
Israel AdesanyaAndy Brownbill/Associated Press

"Why can't I fight Adesanya?" Covington wondered last month on Submission Radio (h/t MMA Fighting). "He can't stop my wrestling. I'll pick him up and drop him on his f--king head. He's a cardio kickboxer. They got enough cardio kickboxers in women's classes around the U.S. I could go join one of those as well, but I decided to pick up hard grueling American wrestling. I don't think Adesanya could stop my American wrestling, and I don't think he's that good a fighter."

Egged on by muse and broadcaster Chael Sonnen, Covington has offered to meet the middleweight champ up at 185 pounds. Adesanya has indicated Covington should fight at least once at middleweight before getting a title shot, though Covington appears to view it as more of a one-off. So, stalemate. For now, anyway. As long as Adesanya has challenges at middleweight—if you consider Jared Cannonier a challenge—he won't have to give Covington a second glance.

Matchup-wise, the initial knee-jerk here would be to slap the striker-grappler label on this and proceed without further comment.

But Adesanya's takedown defense is very underrated, and if opponents can get him down, they can't usually keep him down. Covington would be moving up a weight class, so he wouldn't have the same size advantage he'd have over Poirier at 155. Plus Adesanya has faced good wrestlers and pressure fighters before, from Derek Brunson to Marvin Vettori to Kelvin Gastelum.


1. Khamzat Chimaev

This not only could be the weirdest clash of heels in recent memory, but it's also on the paper list of the best fights the UFC can make for the second half of 2022.

Chimaev is an unbelievably gifted, electric, ridiculously charismatic fighter. He also has a close relationship with Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord head of a Chechen government loyal to Vladimir Putin. Sometimes people select their sports villains based on what happens off the playing surface. Within that group of people, there are surely more than a few who view Chimaev as a heel despite his brilliance.

Not to throw water on my own parade, but this may not be a realistic matchup, especially if Covington is more interested in heat and money than competitive glory (and he wouldn't be the first). If he can reel in a big payday with someone like Poirier, there's no reason Covington would go anywhere near Chimaev. But if people can keep Covington's eyes on welterweight and the money and circumstances were right, this would be instant, must-watch television for any combat sports (or any sports) fan.