Straight out of the pro wrestling playbook of how to promote a big fight, the welterweight showdown of ex-teammates turned enemies in Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley feels like it should be one of UFC's most long-awaited fights.
While still an anticipated matchup given what's at stake and the contrasting styles of each fighter, this once volatile main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Saturday is noticeably lacking from the standpoint of meeting its large potential for hype as a grudge match.
The answer as to why can be traced to two separate reasons.
Despite posting a video of his public endorsement by President Donald Trump this week, Covington (15-2) has kept his shtick as a trash-talking baiter of controversy down to a whimper. Noticeably quiet on social media, the 30-year-old seemingly hasn't given a published interview since the fight was announced in late August.
"This is one of the highest anticipated fights yet it was one of the last fights to be announced," Woodley told ESPN's Ariel Helwani earlier this month. "There has been hardly any media behind the fight and any promotion. We have got two guys who can't stand each other and we have heard hardly nothing about it. So what I am doing is taking it to focus on the fight and not to have to deal with all the BS.
"It's a blessing in disguise for me [that] he's very quiet right now. He's not talking as much as he normally is. He's focusing and training because he remembers what it's like to be in there with me and training with me. You can only fake the media out so much, now he has to train. He has to live up to all the stuff he has been talking and now he's in there training hard."
If Covington's silence is anything like the muted nature of the build to his title shot against Kamaru Usman in December, the lack of noise likely supports Woodley's theory that he's taking the fight seriously. Covington went toe-to-toe with Usman for nearly five rounds before losing via TKO in one of 2019's best fights.
But the second reason for the fight's muted luster is just as important and centers upon whether or not Woodley (19-5-1) still has anything left in the tank at age 38.
It's a question that almost feels wrong in asking given that just two years ago, Woodley dismantled Darren Till in the fourth and final defense of his 170-pound title. Yet the two fights that followed -- wide decision defeats to Usman and Gilbert Burns -- showed a decided lack of urgency or life from Woodley, causing more than a whisper from critics wondering if his fighting spirit has been extinguished.
It's a notion Woodley vehemently dismissed by exclaiming, "I'm not over the hill, I'm really just getting started." Without directly referencing rumors that his burgeoning acting and rap careers got in the way of his preparation, Woodley went on to explain away the defeats as him feeling as if he had nothing left to accomplish and couldn't summon the same level of fire.
"Y'all bored me, y'all didn't motivate me. I was the top dude," Woodley said. "There wasn't no Carlos Condits left, there wasn't no Robbie Lawlers left. There wasn't no Georges St-Pierre or Michael Bisping in my site. There was no Conor McGregor fight on the table, there was no Nick or Nate Diaz."
Instead of acknowledging his flat effort against Burns, Woodley was more interested in throwing praise on himself for the positives he took from it in comparison to the Usman fight.
"The positive is that at no point in the fight was I looking to quit or I was going to let him knock me out," Woodley said. "I felt cardio wise that I was great. I hadn't fought over a year yet still felt that I was in there. It felt good to be consciously in there since the fight before I didn't feel that and felt like I was in space."
Win or go home for Woodley?
Whether or not he will admit it, Woodley's description of his training camp in St. Louis for this fight seems to confirm that his dedication to prepare has greatly increased knowing that the potential for a third straight defeat would remove whatever is left to the idea that Woodley remains elite. He claimed to have pushed himself -- arriving earlier and staying later than ever before -- at an all-time high level and credits the presence of Jorge Masvidal, a former American Top Teammate to both Woodley and Covington -- for pushing him past his default stopping points.
Regardless of whether that's true, Covington believes it's the disdain between them that will produce the very best version of what is left inside of Woodley's tank.
"There is no doubt about it, this rivalry is beyond personal," Covington told MMAFighting one week before the fight was announced. "This is for bragging rights for the rest of our lives. There is no doubt fighting me will give him the biggest adrenaline and inspiration to come out here and try and knock me out."
Covington believes the backstory between the two fighters sells itself.
Teammates no longer
After serving as longtime sparing partners at ATT, Woodley began moonlighting outside of the camp during his title run to cross train and add new skills. Covington, just as his newly adopted shtick began getting him attention, began to publicly criticize the loyalty of both Woodley and fellow former champion Robbie Lawler to the gym and regularly bragged about having left Woodley in a puddle of his own blood, sweat and tears after sparring with him.
Covington used the arguments between them as a case for him getting a shot at Woodley's title, which never happened. Covington also claimed the projected Aug. 22 date of this fight for this summer fell apart because Woodley "needed more time to juice" after accusing him of having low testosterone levels after years of performance-enhancing drug use.
"This fight sells in so many ways," Covington said. "We used to be teammates. There is the Republican and liberal angle, the hatred we generally have for each other. This is a real beef and we will be trying to kill each other. So I think we are going to see the best Tyron Woodley we have ever seen for this fight. Speaking of his last two fights, yeah those guys beat him on the judges' scorecards. This fight ain't going to the judges scorecards. I'm going to leave no doubt I'm the best welterweight in the world and am going to add another champion to my resume. I'm going to finish him. I promise you that, he will get left unconscious inside the Octagon."
The camp drama surrounding the two fighters only escalated over the past year the more Covington began to run his mouth and create friction with the likes of teammates Masvidal, Dustin Poirier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (among others). The fallout led to Covington leaving ATT altogether for this camp, with Woodley filling in his opinion of the details as to what happened.
"He got kicked out of ATT, he didn't leave anywhere. He got kicked out," Woodley said. "He's training at MMA Masters, from what I understand. That's a camp that has always been a competitor of ATT so they probably jumped up on the opportunity. They used to have Amanda Nunes before she brightened up and jumped at ATT. They have always wanted to show that they are equals to ATT."
Woodley recalled Covington as a selfish teammate who has always done what he wants and not what's best for the team, saying, "It has always been about him." Because of that, Woodley doesn't expect a new team to add any kind of wrinkles to his game.
Covington confirmed in May that he was leaving ATT and announced his new affiliation with "Colby Covington Incorporated." Asked for specifics last month of the fallout and if there was bad blood between him and gym founder Dan Lambert, Covington chose the high road.
"I haven't had any communication with Dan [but I] still have tons of respect for him and tons of love," Covington said. "He's still a mentor and a friend to me and I'll cherish the memories we had the rest of my life. I'm sure we will have a chat again soon and we'll catch up. Who knows? I'm sure one day we will be in WWE together and that's that. There is no hard feelings and there is no bad blood. There is nothing but love for Dan Lambert."
Title shot on the line?
After Usman defends his title against his own former teammate in Burns later this year, Covington believes a win over Woodley puts him next in line. Woodley, meanwhile, seems more focused on proving once and for all that Covington's trash talk was merely show and not the reality of what it looked like when the two of them used to spar.
Woodley is set upon taking back a bit of his lost aura while reminding his critics of what he can still be.
"I mentored Kamaru Usman, I'll show you the text messages. Same thing with Colby. These guys were mentored by me, they should thank me," Woodley said. "At the end of the day, my legacy is engrossed into their legacy. Kamaru Usman has no legacy without me. Colby Covington built his whole name off of me. I don't need them for a legacy, I don't need anybody for a legacy.
"My legacy is going out there and showing out with actions — putting these four ounce gloves upside your motherf---ing head and showing you that I'm the best and I punch the hardest."