UFC Newark: No Easy Path for Covington Against Lawler

Colby Covington and Robbie Lawler
Covington vs Lawler Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

In a clash of personalities, the outspoken Colby Covington will collide with the no-nonsense Robbie Lawler in a bout with major title implications at UFC Newark.

Truth be told, Colby Covington’s plan appeared to have worked perfectly.

Until it didn’t.

In March, left forgotten in the welterweight title picture, he re-injected himself into the conversation with a confrontation of new champion Kamaru Usman that went viral.  But as the months rolled by, it became increasingly clear that the turn-around for Usman would not be a quick one and the rest of the division would have to move along without him.  While Covington’s public persona has not rested, it has paled in comparison to the action seen inside the cage.  Very bluntly, nothing Covington says can ever be more exciting than Jorge Masvidal delivering that flying knee to Ben Askren.

With his talk rendered mute, Covington needs an electric performance now more than ever.    His run of six consecutive victories is one of the best streaks in the division and a seventh would tie him for third behind Usman (10) and surging contender Leon Edwards (8).  Notably, UFC President Dana White recently said that a Covington victory does get him another title shot as he did step up to help the UFC headline the show.  However, the final hurdle is easily is most difficult one to date.

If Covington is characterized by his talk, then Robbie Lawler by comparison is a no-nonsense bringer of violence.  While listed as a loss, none feel as if Lawler is on the downswing after devastating Askren in the opening seconds of their bout in March.  Coming off a year-long layoff, he showed the form in that brief fight that was reminiscent of when he was devastating opponents in back-to-back-to-back wars as the welterweight champion.  He was even set to return sooner than Saturday, being scheduled to face elite former foe Tyron Woodley in June before injury pulled the latter out of the fight.

While Covington made himself a major player in 2018, Saturday is Lawler’s chance to jump right back to the head of the line with a victory.  While Jorge Masvidal’s knockout of the year candidate pegs him as the current top contender, Lawler’s star power and status as a former champion makes him an exciting option for Usman as well.  Most notably, the UFC is awaiting to hear the status of Usman as he recovers from hernia surgery.  Should he need more time for any reason to recuperate, there is heavy speculation that an interim title could be made in his absence to help fill the latter half of the schedule for 2019 and Lawler versus Masvidal would be a no-brainer in that scenario.

Stylistically, the wrestling and pressure of Covington is up against the physicality of Lawler. “Chaos” should look to get in behind feints and force the clinch as early as possible to wear down the former champion.  Getting on top of Lawler and maintaining top position is his best route for victory.  Rather than risk top position in trying to secure a submission, Covington should focus on landing a steady stream of ground-and-pound and keeping Lawler from making his way to the fence to help himself back to his feet.

The keys to a Lawler victory are to avoid getting corralled against the fence and keep the fight in the center of the Octagon.  He figures to be the far superior striker and has shown competent takedown defense throughout his career.  On the feet, he should look to use kicks to chop away at Covington’s mobility and make him an easier target to land combinations on.

Lawler, Covington, and Masvidal will all be awaiting to see the status of Kamaru Usman and when he may return.  There is no question that Covington has been in the conversation longer for a title shot, but Lawler also carries the level of name-recognition and star power that can’t be understated.  While Masvidal’s highlight reel knockout keeps him at the forefront of the title picture, it remains anyone’s guess as to who will actually step into the cage to challenge for the welterweight title later this year.