The UFC 272 showdown between Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal has been years in the making. So much has been said and done to turn these former best friends into enemies. There is an origin story to all the bitterness, but depending on who you ask, the versions might vary.
It started with money, specifically an alleged unfulfilled payment from Covington to Masvidal’s long-time striking coach, Paulino Hernandez, an old-school Cuban exile and pioneer of kickboxing and taekwondo back in his homeland, and member of the national team.
Hernandez largely has stayed quiet about what happened, focused only on training Masvidal and a handful of other American Top Team fighters. But with Covington and Masvial set to square off in Saturday night’s pay-per-view headliner in Las Vegas, Hernandez opened up to tell his side of the story in a recent interview with MMA Junkie.
“I knew that he wasn’t going to pay what we had agreed to,” Hernandez said in Spanish as he recalled the moment things went south between Masvidal and Covington. “I knew it because he had already mentioned it to Jorge.”
It was 2018, and Covington was gearing up for an interim welterweight championship fight against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225. The opportunity was what Covington and Hernandez had been working toward, ever since Hernandez began training Covington part time when he moved from Oregon to South Florida as a 1-0 professional in 2012.
Once Covington got to the UFC, Hernandez became his full-time coach and cornerman. According to Hernandez, they agreed on Covington paying him 5 percent of his purse, not including sponsorship money. It was a verbal, gentlemen’s agreement with no official contract. Covington honored that agreement all throughout his UFC run, but then came the interim title fight with dos Anjos, which Covington won.
According to Hernandez, Covington’s purse for the bout was $350,000, which didn’t account for the $30,000 in Reebok pay Covington received. Hernandez said he was owed $17,500 for his services, but he only received $5,000.
It was something Hernandez could’ve seen coming – because Masvidal warned him.
“Jorge told me, ‘Hey, look. (Covington is) telling me that he’s going to be getting a lot of money and that it’s going to be too much money for you,’” Hernandez said. “(Masvidal) told me that (Covington) didn’t want to pay. I told him I’d still finish the job with him, that I’d do the final training. I wanted him to be champion.
“I mean, we’re talking about the same gym. The gym is always looking to add new champions. He’s a good fighter and had a good opportunity to put on a good showing. I knew he was going to win the interim title.
“We still worked with him, and we gave him the opportunity. When it came down to paying, to reflect and come with the agreed sum, he didn’t do it. So from there, that’s when things ended.”
Two sides of the story
Masvidal, who’s trained under Hernandez since his late teens, said that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in his friendship with Covington. However, he had already perceived certain things that didn’t sit well with him prior to not paying Hernandez in full.
“That’s definitely what fast-forwarded it,” Masvidal told MMA Junkie. “There’s numerous interviews with him calling me his best friend. I really wouldn’t do that because I would see signs in the way he treated his family, the way he talked about his sister, the way he talked about his mom. …
“I was already like, let me start separating myself from this guy little by little. And then, ‘Bam.’ Before I could even fully (separate), he betrayed my coach, didn’t pay him the money that was agreed upon, and I knew since then I’m gonna hurt this guy.”
That’s not how Covington recalls the situation. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, Masvidal confronted Covington on the situation when asked what caused their rift.
“It’s fake news,” Covington said. “Anything Jorge says, it’s a lie. He’s all talk, no walk. … That night that I made that paycheck, I got half of what that said. The commission said I made double of what I said. I got paid half of that.”
How much Covington got paid at UFC 225 remains unknown officially since the Illinois State Athletic Commission, which regulated the event in Chicago, didn’t release disclosed payouts.
“He did win that money, but he denies it,” Hernandez said. “Look, even if he says he won what he won, he still didn’t pay me what he needed to pay me. Let’s say he only made $200,000. Then he still owes me $5,000. Remember, I only got $5,000.”
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Masvidal vouched for Covington when he first moved to South Florida. It was Masvidal who introduced Covington to Hernandez, which kickstarted everything.
“Well, I met Colby Covington through Jorge Masvidal,” Hernandez said. “He told me that he was a friend and a wrestler that was new and had good grappling. He said Colby was helping him a lot in the wrestling training and working with him in that area, and in that same way, he was helping (Covington) in the striking area.
“He brought (Covington) to me and said, ‘Look, this kid has a lot of potential. Train him because he’s missing the striking part.’ So I began to train him and, yeah, definitely they were friends – or at least apparently. After, they began to grow apart, and it was all a product of things that Covington was doing that Masvidal didn’t like.”
‘Don’t be saying that sh*t’
For his first eight UFC bouts, trash talk wasn’t really part of Covington’s routine. That changed in a big way after a win over Demian Maia in the UFC Fight Night 119 co-main event in October 2017. The event took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Hernandez remembers it clearly, in part because he and Masvidal were against what Covington had in mind.
“He wasn’t like that. He was another person,” Hernandez said. “He behaved well. He was well spoken and all that.
“When the fight against the Brazilian (Maia) came up, he told us that he was going to talk sh*t. So were like, ‘Listen, don’t be saying that sh*t. F*ck, man, don’t talk bad about a country.’ Yet, he did it. He told us he was going to let them have it. He had that plan. But, look, he’s not like that. There has to be someone telling him what to say. That’s not in him. That’s a character he invented.”
Following the infamous “filthy animals” post-fight speech and the interim title win against dos Anjos, things began to really spiral downward between Masvidal and Covington.
At the beginning stages, when the feud was just coming into focus to the public, many fans thought it was fabricated to generate interest and headlines. However, there truly was descent growing within the walls of American Top Team in Coconut Creek.
“Yeah, it got toxic,” owner Dan Lambert told MMA Junkie. “It got to the point where it was affecting the gym. We’ve had lots of fighters in this gym over the last 25 years. We’ve had people that love each other. We’ve had people who don’t like each other, but we’ve always been able to separate that, keep some professionalism in the gym and not let it affect the team.
“Their situation got to the point where it was affecting people inside the gym, and I couldn’t keep it under control. And at one point, we had to tell both of them to leave.”
Not long after his falling out with Masvidal, Covington began having issues with other team members because of his inflammatory comments about Masvidal and Brazilians, especially since ATT is home to many Brazilian fighters and coaches. Covington was rubbing specific prominent fighters the wrong way, such as Dustin Poirier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It all led to Covington parting ways with ATT and joining MMA Masters in nearby Miami.
‘I have nothing against him’
Hernandez feels no ill will toward Covington, but he’s still not OK with Covington allegedly breaking his word after UFC 225.
“I have nothing against him,” Hernandez said. “The only thing is that in his last fight that I trained him, which was for the interim title against Rafael dos Anjos, we agreed on a payment, and he didn’t live up to the agreement on the payment.
“I think that’s where the hostility from Masvidal came. After so much help was given to him from my part and (Masvidal’s), (Covington) didn’t honor his part, his deal.
“From there, I’ve never spoken to him again, and he’s never spoken to me. In fact, once I ran into him, and he looked me in the face and simply from there the friendship ended. Everything came to an end. He forgot all the things I did for him, all the time I invested in his life to teach him the technique.”
It’s inevitable that things will heat up between Covington (16-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) and Masvidal (35-15 MMA, 12-8 UFC) as UFC 272 fight week rolls on. Covington speaks his mind with little regard for boundaries, while Masvidal isn’t one to back down from a confrontation.
Hernandez knows the bad blood runs deep and is well aware of the magnitude the fight has reached. For Hernandez, there is no feud, just a mission that needs to be accomplished Saturday night.
“My job as a trainer is going to be to find (Masvidal’s) focus and have him not get emotional,” Hernandez said. “He needs to focus on his fight and implementing the game plan. I’m not interested in the part with the cameras, what people say, what’s said. I’m working toward keeping his focus, helping him fight his fight, and forget everything else so he can be victorious.”
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