Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Turn on your 24-hour news network of choice and you would be hard pressed to avoid coverage of today’s polarized political climate. Channel surfing in that block will be a medley of national anthem protests, debates between conservatives and liberals and the latest antics of President Donald Trump and his administration. The floodgates have opened as people from every spectrum of public visibility have jumped in the fray.
Everyone, from acclaimed actors and comedians to country singers and rappers, have entered the discussion. Mixed martial arts has had a few brush-ups with this phenomenon. Most notably, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White made a brief appearance at the Republican National Convention -- or RNC, the acronym that confuses the MMA fan in me every four years -- to support his friend and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Rapper and former Tuesday Night Contender Series color commentator Snoop Dogg released a music video depicting a clown parody of Trump being shot with a toy gun. Cameroon-born heavyweight title challenger Francis Ngannou responded directly to the infamous “sh*thole” countries comment from Trump in the build-up to his bout with Stipe Miocic at UFC 220.
None of those three incidents made many waves in the MMA world. White has never been shy about his allegiance to Trump, and their relationship dates back to long before the former reality TV star and real estate mogul was a figure of any significance in politics. Snoop Dogg definitely stirred the pot, but his alliance with the UFC was just one of many of his side projects and the statement he made was in his original profession. Ngannou only answered a few questions at a few press conferences that had little effect outside of the MMA bubble. The MMA world has been more or less shielded from the controversy, while mainstream stick-and-ball team sports have been inserted in the conversation one way or another.
That is very likely to change soon. This past Saturday, Colby Covington reaffirmed his intention to happily jump on that sword. “Chaos” wasted no time after his decision win over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225 to make his intentions clear: to put his new interim welterweight title belt on President Trump’s desk.
The Oregon State University alumnus is no dummy. This is all part of the plan. As fellow Sherdog writer Jacob Debets noted in his latest column, the right-wing pandering Covington has used to propel himself into the spotlight is low-brow and has nothing resembling nuance or sophistication. However, it works.
Controversy sells, plain and simple. No matter what, people gravitate to the debates, disagreements, fussing and fighting that accompany contentious subject matter. Eyeballs always turn toward the chaos, and where the eyeballs go, wallets and credit card numbers usually follow. The current political climate is no exception. “Make America Great Again” hats are top sellers, television networks are raking in advertisement money from their news offerings, and merchandise protesting President Trump is sold by street corner vendors all over major American cities.
White has claimed that he can make that meeting between Trump and his latest fighter to wear UFC gold happen, with Covington stating he can rely on American Top Team founder Dan Lambert if that somehow falls through. While the president has yet to make any public statements, his son Donald Trump Jr. took to Instagram to congratulate Covington on his most notable win. Either way, it looks like we’ll soon witness a photo op featuring the Commander-in-Chief and MMA’s answer to Loki. When that happens, expect a firestorm. The Philadelphia Eagles, the Golden State Warriors and national anthem policies have been the catalysts of endless debate show discussions and water cooler conversations nationwide. Expect the image of the outspoken and controversial belt holder, the outspoken and controversial company head and the outspoken and controversial Head of State standing side-by-side to be a lightning rod for attention.
If the early reports on the pay-per-view buys from UFC 225 -- just shy of 150,000 -- are to be believed, the promotion needs whatever angle it can find to sell Covington’s next outing. Logically, he’s on a collision course with actual champion Tyron Woodley. Considering the lukewarm reception to his last two title defenses and the subsequent trash talking he has endured from White, Woodley will need the boost as well.
The dynamic of two combatants representing different sociopolitical ideals is nothing new in fight sports. Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali and Max Schmeling are among the many names that have toed those lines several times over. Even though the country-versus-country theme has played out many times in major MMA promotions, the situation that is currently brewing has yet to happen in the UFC.
However low-hanging the fruit may be, expect all parties involved to reach for it. That’s not to say that there won’t be any sincerity in sentiments expressed leading up to the eventual unification of the 170-pound title. After all, Woodley has frequently spoken out on social issues and the factor race he believes has played in his career.
Maybe this will end being an unpleasant backdrop to an otherwise routine UFC title fight, one that might get a few more butts in seats and influence a casual fan or total newcomer to order an event. Or perhaps we will see red MAGA hats in the stands booing the oft-disliked champion, while cheering his latest foe and Great White Hope with the same cowardly racist vitriol that greeted Rashad Evans when he dismantled Chuck Liddell. Covington coming out to the cage to tune of “God Bless America” or any other patriotic tune, draped in the American flag, with the full support of the Trump clan, isn’t far-fetched. It’s also equally feasible to see Woodley blasting his own protest music over the arena speakers in response -- might I suggest Childish Gambino’s “This is America” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” -- to the cheers of a bigger than usual African-American fan presence joining forces with the “social justice warriors” and “cucks.”
No matter what side of the political fence you stand on, this could be explosive. It’s not necessarily good for the sport’s perception to the outside world, the society in which it functions, and certainly not for the security of the arena, but it could be wonderful for business. The betterment of the world will have to take a back seat. For White, his bosses at Endeavor, Covington and Woodley, the hope is that there’s a pot of gold on the other side of the “Chaos.”