If there is such a thing as a line in fight promotion, UFC 296 welterweight title challenger Colby Covington may have stomped on it, spit on it and deleted it from existence.
Covington will challenge Leon Edwards for the belt in the main event of UFC 296 at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, but they almost came to blows at the final news conference promoting the event Thursday.
“On Saturday night, I’m going to bring you to a place you never want to be,” Covington said. “I’m going to bring you to the seventh level of hell. We’ll say ‘What’s up?’ to your dad while we’re there.”
Edwards’ father was murdered at a London nightclub in 2004 when he was 13-years-old. The champion has often discussed how the tragedy pushed him in a negative direction until he discovered mixed martial arts and turned his life around.
Edwards was understandably irate at the comment. He immediately fired a water bottle across the stage and charged his opponent before security intervened.
It’s the latest in a long line of distasteful remarks by Covington. He was once a solid contender who couldn’t achieve a following thanks to his less-than-exciting fighting style. The quiet, polite athlete invented an over-the-top character instead and surged in popularity. Covington rode that wave to huge paydays and an interim title belt.
He has often struggled with how far to push the limits. This week’s comments appear to conflict with any sense of decency, but Edwards will get to respond in the cage.
Edwards, 32, has not lost a fight since 2015. The Jamaica-born resident of England won the welterweight title with a knockout of longtime champ Kamaru Usman on August 20, 2022. Edwards retained the belt after winning a decision over Usman in March.
He’s now looking to move on from that rivalry to Covington, a top-level wrestler who has evolved as a striker.
Covington’s only two losses in the last eight years have been to Usman in title fights. Covington also hasn’t fought since a decision victory over Jorge Masvidal in March 2022.
It’s not the only title fight on the card.
Alexandre Pantoja will defend his flyweight belt for the first time in a rematch with Brandon Royval.
Pantoja won the title in a split decision over Brandon Moreno in July. Pantoja choked out Royval their first meeting in 2021 and is excited to face him again.
“I’m very happy that Brandon managed to get his title (shot),” Pantoja said. “I’ve faced him before. He fights aggressively and likes to put on a show. He’s great for our flyweight division and he’s very skilled. I have to train hard for him and stay very alert.”
One of the non-title bouts on the main card may carry even more intrigue.
Veteran Tony Ferguson will move back down to 155 pounds in the hopes of snapping a six-fight losing streak that began with an interim title loss to Justin Gaethje in 2020.
His opponent has been on the opposite trajectory as of late.
Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett has won six straight with a brashness that has generated quite a bit of hype. Ferguson does represent a step up in competition despite the losing streak.
Pimblett predicted a quick victory, but is also excited to watch the main event. He hopes to see Covington pay a price for his comments.
“That was way too far, I wanted to jump up and punch him in the back of the head,” Pimblett said on the UFC’s weigh-in show. “I wanted to hit him. That was way too far. You can’t say something about someone’s (murdered) dad.
“I hope he knocks (Covington) clean out. I hope he sends him to the shadow realm.”
The main card starts on pay-per-view at 7 p.m. Four preliminary card fights begin at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. The early prelims start on ESPN+ at 3:30 p.m.
Main card bouts for Saturday’s event at T-Mobile Arena
— Leon Edwards (21-3, one no contest) vs. Colby Covington (17-3), for Edwards’ welterweight title.
— Alexandre Pantoja (26-5) vs. Brandon Royval (15-6), for Pantoja’s flyweight title
— Shavkat Rakhmonov (17-0) vs. Stephen Thompson (17-6-1), welterweights
— Tony Ferguson (26-9) vs. Paddy Pimblett (20-3), lightweights
— Josh Emmett (18-4) vs. Bryce Mitchell (16-2), featherweights