Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

This weekend, UFC 272 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and features a welterweight grudge match between former interim champion Colby Covington and “BMF” champion Jorge Masvidal. The once “best friends” now turned bitter rivals are both coming off a loss to welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, and they desperately need a win to stay relevant in the 170-pound title conversation.

In anticipation of their long-awaited fight, let’s take a look at what each man needs to do to get that win, any X-factors that might be in play, and what we ultimately think will happen.

Paths to Victory for Covington at UFC 272

To win this fight, Covington simply needs to be himself.

Covington is arguably the premier pressure fighter currently competing in the UFC and virtually every single one of his victories has been because he can put forth an absurd work-rate for a welterweight. He throws nearly over 10 strikes per minute and attempts nearly 9 takedowns per fight, all while never taking a backward step. Michael Bisping likes to say that Covington “weaponizes his pace,” which is a dumb phrase, but it drives to the point at hand: keeping up with that level of activity is incredibly difficult for anyone, especially as the fight drags into later rounds. Masvidal may be able to match pace for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but for 15, 20, 25? It’s unlikely.

Furthermore, even the manner in which Covington pressures lines up well for him against Masvidal. While Masvidal has had success against other pressure fighters (Nate Diaz, for instance) and other wrestlers (Ben Askren), the one time he fought someone who married those two strategies together was when Kamaru Usman nullified him at UFC 251. Covington can do the same here, and he can probably do it even more effectively because it’s really the bread and butter of his game. Covington excels at backing fighters up to the fence and then entering clinches, or safe shots to start a wrestling sequence (not diving his head in like Askren did). Masvidal is a good clinch wrestler, but he’s not as strong as Covington, and his tendency to get his back to the cage is a huge liability. Even if he’s defending the worst of it, Covington is still avoiding the danger, draining Masvidal’s energy, and winning the fight.

If Colby Covington comes to UFC 272 and fights like he did against Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, and Rafael dos Anjos, he has a great chance to get his hand raised.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paths to victory for Masvidal at UFC 272

Unlike Covington, Masvidal cannot fight like he has become accustomed to and have any realistic hope of winning. However, Masvidal does have something Covington doesn’t really have: the option of how to pull off the upset.

As noted above, Covington is a pace-monster, and his game is predicated on compounding round over round, like a snowball going downhill. The means Masvidal has two options available to him: either slow the snowballs descent and keep pace, or knock the snowball out. Each has its pros and cons, so let’s run them down quickly.

Option A: Slow Covington down and keep pace

Masvidal is an excellent defensive fighter and as wily as it gets in the sport. He’s also no slouch in the cardio department himself. Although Covington keeps a high pace with both his strikes and his wrestling, the latter is really the straw that stirs the drink for “Chaos.” If Masvidal can entirely shut down the wrestling came of Covington and avoid protracted clinch battles against the fence, he has an excellent chance of straight up beating Covington.

Masvidal needs to take advantage of his edge in reach by using a stiff jab – a weapon Usman employed to great effect – and he needs to hammer the body early, which will chip away at Covington’s presumed advantage in the later rounds. Getting taken down in the center of the cage isn’t the worst thing either, as Covington leaves a lot of scramble opportunities when he’s on top. But more than anything, Masvidal needs to keep his back off the fence. Covington loves takedowns from there, and he can drain a round away with mat returns and clinch control. If Masvidal can use footwork and a jab to keep things in the center, his technical superiority and power edge can shine through.

Option B – “Baptize” Covington early

Masvidal has risen to prominence on the back of his newly discovered power punching, and certainly the simplest, though perhaps riskier, proposition is to go all out on that. While Covington doesn’t shoot telegraphed takedowns like Ben Askren that Masvidal could look to time for a quick finish, he’s still not a great defensive fighter, and as he comes in aggressively on Masvidal, there will be opportunities to counter. Conceding the fact that failure means getting taken down and repeated failure means certain defeat, the best calculus here may still be for Masvidal to simply sit down and swing really hard, and look to scramble up as soon as possible, otherwise known as the game plan he attempted against Usman in their first fight.

While Option A presents a viable path to victory for Masvidal, it is potentially the more difficult choice to pull off, requiring Masvidal to fight extremely well (and maybe even get a little lucky) for 25 minutes. Alternatively, Option B is a bit of an “all in” bet, and one with considerable risk as well. After all, if Robbie Lawler couldn’t turn Covington’s lights out, Masvidal may struggle to do the same. If I’m Masvidal, I would try Option A to start and then reassess after the first round, because if you can’t keep your back off the fence, you need to go for broke as early and often as possible.

X-Factor

Given the “bad blood” nature of this fight, there is a genuine question as to how these two men will come to the cage. Will they both throw caution to the wind and just try to brawl? Stranger things have happened, especially with the sheer amount of trash that has been talked. If so, that favors Masvidal heavily. The only fights we’ve really seen where Covington got away from his wrestling was his pair of bouts with Usman, and in both of those fights, he was substantially worse off for it (notably, Covington also did substantially better in the later rounds of the rematch when he did start wrestling). If Covington gets real dumb, he could find himself “baptized” after all.

Who will win?

I think this is a closer fight than the odds currently have it listed. But in the end, it’s still Covington’s to lose. Masvidal needs to either land a perfect shot or fight a perfect fight, whereas Covington simply has to be himself.

Colby Covington by unanimous decision.

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