As the fight week rhetoric hits a fever pitch following one bombastic interview after another ahead of UFC 272 on Saturday, when bitter rivals Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal finally settle their beef in a five-round welterweight main event, there are a pair of important questions that need to be considered.
First off all, following such an emotional back and forth between former American Top Team teammates, there's the question of who is actually telling the truth when retelling the fallout of their friendship and who actually got the better of one another following hundreds of rounds of sparring together. Secondly, there's this: does any of it really matter in the end?
The logical response would be no. At the end of the day, it's styles that make fights and Covington (16-3) is not only younger by three years in comparison to the 37-year-old Masvidal (35-15), he appears to be the much fresher fighter at the moment.
Although both 170-pound contenders have suffered a pair of defeats to current champion Kamaru Usman over the past two-plus years, Covington was decidedly more competitive in both outings and appears to deserve the 3-1 odds as the betting favorite handed to him by most oddsmakers.
Yes, without question, there are many reasons to believe a 50-45 scorecard in favor of Covington is possible should he be able to weaponize his wrestling and cardio to disarm Masvidal of his knockout threat on the feet.
But have you actually ever seen two brothers fight before, where the emotion in play can often cancel out the differences in size or ability? In this case, brotherly would be an accurate word to describe the relationship the two fighters once had, with Covington going as far as calling Masvidal his "best friend" multiple times during postfight interviews during his rise to becoming interim champion in 2018.
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It goes without saying that Masvidal's best chance at winning this weekend is by ramping up the hatred between them in hopes of luring Covington away from his gameplan in favor of brawling. And one has to wonder whether the constant relitigating of their fallout throughout the fight's promotion might help facilitate that.
Historically, Masvidal is one of the rare fighters at the elite level whose success can often be fueled by emotion. His 2019 renaissance was clearly fueled by it as Masvidal emerged from a career-long layoff to score a trio of knockout wins en route to an unlikely fighter of the year campaign.
The edge Masvidal fought with that memorable year, in which he routinely promised to "baptize" the competition, hasn't quite been seen again since he evolved from respected journeyman to pay-per-view headliner, earning the financial rewards that come with it (and he had so long coveted).
Did fame soften Masvidal just a bit or was it age catching up with him? Or was it simply that fighting someone as historically talented as Usman brought the reality of Masvidal's true ability back down to earth just a bit?
Either way, that spark appears to be back this week in Masvidal, regardless of whether you think he or Covington might be hamming up their hatred of one another to sell tickets. And it's something to watch closely as the two get closer to fight night and face off at the final press conference and weigh in one more time before touching gloves for real inside the Octagon.
Credit Islam Makhachev for using his smarts
Considering a pair of title fights originally slated for Saturday's UFC 272 card (Alexander Volkanovski-Max Holloway III and Aljamain Sterling-Petr Yan II) were pulled due to various mishaps, it came as an unfortunate non-surprise when the new co-main event pairing lightweight contenders Rafael dos Anjos and Rafael Fiziev also dissolved.
Fiziev's COVID-19 diagnosis opened the door for a scrambling from UFC matchmakers to find a replacement for this five-round non-title bout, which Renato Moicano ultimately accepted. But for a few interesting hours this week, Makhachev's name was mentioned prominently as a late replacement after both he and RDA challenged one another on Twitter.
In the end, whether the reasons for not accepting were financially driven or not, Makhachev will not be making a seven-day turnaround following his quick dismantling of his own late replacement in Bobby Green to accept a meeting with dos Anjos. Nor should he, if we're being candid, regardless of RDA's notion that Makhachev is scared.
I called his bluff and he folded. Let’s move on...— Rafael dos Anjos (@RdosAnjosMMA) March 1, 2022
Makhachev, who is coached by former 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, extended his win streak to 10 against Green and was already passed over for the next title shot in favor of Justin Gaethje, who will challenge Charles Oliveira at UFC 274 on May 7. An argument could've already been made that Makhachev had done enough to earn a title shot without fighting Green, who filled in for an injured Beneil Dariush, and the same argument can be used when explaining why fighting dos Anjos makes just as little sense.
If a dominant 10-fight win streak in arguably the sport's most dangerous division isn't enough to secure the winner of Oliveira-Gaethje, what is? Makhachev would have only been doing a favor for the promotion by taking the fight and not himself.
All Makhachev had to do was hear the comments UFC president Dana White gave Monday to The Underground regarding former champion Conor McGregor's future to realize how savvy he will need to be to get what he deserves. McGregor hasn't won a fight at lightweight since 2016 and has lost three of his last four fights, all by stoppage, yet just might be next in line for the 155-pound title because of his marketability.
"It's gonna depend on who the champion is," White said. "The champion has some say in that, too. Who's gonna be the champ when Conor McGregor comes back? And what do they wanna do? If you look at Oliveira, right ... if it's still Oliveira by the time [McGregor] comes back, maybe Oliveira wants Conor. Who knows? I don't know. We'll see what happens."
Tweet of the week
Two-time defending PFL women's lightweight champion Kayla Harrison appears to still be in the midst of negotiation between Bellator MMA and a return to PFL to end her free agency, according to reports Tuesday from Ariel Helwani.
But that hasn't stopped the former two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo from challenging MMA legend and Bellator champion Cris Cyborg to a fight at the American Top Team gym in south Florida.
Who wins Masvidal vs. Covington? And which fighter is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed top picks on UFC 272, all from the insider who's up more than $10,000 on MMA picks the past two years, and find out.