In summer of 2018, just over two years ago, Woodley was the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champ, fresh off of his third title defense and on the cusp of overtaking previous dominant champions such as Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes and perhaps, eventually, Georges St. Pierre.
Covington was the interim champ, having stepped up and won that belt in a dominant performance against Rafael dos Anjos in June while Woodley was out with an injury. Covington was a natural foil for the champ. His “MAGA” hat-wearing, White House-visiting, willfully brash persona was diametrically opposed to Woodley’s; the two had some history as onetime teammates at American Top Team; and they genuinely detested each other in a way utterly distinct from the manufactured beef of so many high-profile fights. The stage appeared to be set for a blockbuster unification match as soon as “The Chosen One” was fit for duty.
Before that fight could be made, though, it was Covington’s turn to spend some time on the shelf. “Chaos” underwent surgery to repair his damaged nose, and the UFC stripped him of the interim belt less than three months after he won it, to his vocal displeasure. By the time the UFC finally managed to put the grudge match together, both men had lost to new champ Kamaru Usman and the rose has frankly lost some of its bloom, especially in light of Woodley’s back-to-back losses. However, the animosity between the two seems as fresh and genuine as ever, and if anything can bring one more inspired performance out of the 38-year-old Woodley, perhaps the Covington match is it. Meanwhile Covington, who had his moments of success even in the loss to Usman, undoubtedly sees the fight as a step on his road back to title contention.
Here is the nearly 22-year history of the UFC welterweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. It tells the story of a hyper-competitive, cutthroat division, one where to strap the belt on your waist was to attach one of the sport’s largest bull’s eyes to your back.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration