MMA fans will have a huge red circle in their calendars around March 5.
Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington will be going toe-to-toe in one of the most highly-anticipated grudge matches ever.
This is a fight that has been talked up and spat out in recent years; the circumstances weren’t quite right for either man, but now it is the perfect match-up at the perfect time.
Francis Ngannou’s upcoming clash with Ciryl Gane is being labelled as a friends-turned-foes encounter at UFC 270 next Saturday but their split is nothing compared to Masvidal and Covington.
Jorge Masvidal (left) was knocked out by Kamaru Usman in his previous UFC fight
The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ also overcame Colby Covington in November last year
Now the friends-turned-rivals will meet in March to settle their bitter grudge
So much has been said by both men about how they went from gym buddies to bitter rivals and it is worth a timely reminder of just why there is so much bad blood between them.
Let’s start with the completely contrasting routes to the top.
Covington was a college wrestling star earning All-American honours while Masvidal shot to YouTube fame as a backyard fighter during the Kimbo Slice era.
‘Street Jesus’ is about as different as it gets from Covington but their paths, however contrasting, both led them to American Top Team.
The Florida-based gym was where both welterweights honed their craft and proved to be the breeding ground for so many top UFC talents.
Being in the same weight class, in the same gym, of course they both developed a rapport.
While training sessions were competitive, Covington and Masvidal used to have a close bond
‘We were pushing each other in the gym. We’d yell in the gym, “Hey, who’s gonna be the first fighter to get a million-dollar fight,” this and that,’ Covington previously told Submission Radio. ‘We were competing to push each other to these great limits.’
There are numerous pictures of the pair together at the time, both in the gym and out socially, so it certainly seems they were close.
But in October 2017, Covington took a new direction having previously been told by the UFC he was too boring and at risk of being cut.
After a huge win over Brazilian favourite Demian Maia in his homeland, the American played the pantomime villain, yelling to the crowd: ‘Brazil, you’re a dump! All you filthy animals suck.
‘I’ve got one thing to say: [former champion] Tyron Woodley, I’m coming for you. If you don’t answer the front door, I’m going to knock it in and I’m going to take what’s mine, that welterweight belt!’
Covington said the pair pushed each other in every single training session together
Covington and Masvidal don’t agree on much but they concur that the Maia fight was a fork in the road moment.
‘Chaos’ thinks Masvidal was envious of all the publicity his team-mate was having as the UFC’s new heel.
‘He’s the type of guy that when you are doing something for him, he will use you,’ Covington told Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. ‘As long as you are doing better than him and you are not helping him out anymore, then he doesn’t care about you.
‘And that’s exactly what happened because when he got beat up by Demian Maia and I went in there and destroyed him (Maia) in his home country, that is when our relationship started to get a different.
‘He started acting different toward me as a competitor. Now I’m making more money than him, banging hotter chicks than him and doing better in life than him. He’s just a jealous little b****.’
Unsurprisingly, Masvidal has a completely different story.
Covington’s win over Demian Maia changed the course of the pair’s friendship
Covington launched a foul-mouthed tirade on Masvidal, saying he’s ‘banged hotter chicks’
‘He ripped off my coach, that was his coach. We were with him until his [interim] title fight.
‘After he won the title, he owed him a certain amount of money, didn’t pay him,’ he told the Dan LeBatard Show in September 2019.
‘I said, “if you don’t pay him I’m going to f*** you up”. My coach got in between it, since then I ain’t talked to the dude.’
Masvidal almost seems hurt at the breakdown in their relationship, revealing that Covington used to sleep in his living room from time to time when he was a bigger name with more money.
He added: ‘It is what it is. All these words they do have consequences because this guy used to sleep on my couch, used to eat off me cause I was the one with the sponsors. He was just still relatively an amateur and I was helping this guy out.
Covington is seen by Kamaru Usman as the second best fighter in the welterweight division
‘It hurts that he would do that in a way just for a like on Facebook, just for a retweet on Twitter, he’s doing that, to get you and me talking about him.
‘He’s mad because people don’t care to see him fight,’ he continued. ‘They want to see him lose. That’s what they tune into.’
Covington rejects the claim that he refused to pay the coach, saying Masvidal was ‘clutching at straws’ and adding: ‘He’s never won one second of any type of rounds we’ve ever trained together; and he knows that deep down inside.’
The pair have not been shy in calling each other out either. ‘Where’s Jorge Masvidal at?’ he said after his win over Tyron Woodley in 2020. ‘He needs to come see me for all the talking he’s done. Come see if he can walk the walk.
Masvidal (C) says it hurts that Covington (right) disrespected him for social media clicks
‘I talk the talk and I walk the walk. I want to see Jorge Masvidal in that octagon. I want the best friends turned enemy fight with “Street Judas” Jorge Masvidal.
‘He used to talk at the old gym, “I’m going to beat your ass, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.” OK. Let’s see it.’
Masvidal was due to fight Leon Edwards last October but was forced to pull out injured.
Edwards is now waiting for a shot at the champion Kamaru Usman and Covington must produce a big win, having suffered a second defeat by the Nigerian Nightmare in his last outing.
He earned Usman’s respect despite their bad blood and the pound-for-pound king even said Covington is clearly the next best fighter in the 170-pound division.
Given that he fought both men in his last two fights, there is nobody better placed to comment but this comes at the perfect time for Masvidal and Covington.
Both men will cash in from their fight but it remains to be seen if they can bury the hatchet
‘Gamebred’ can rebuild his image with a major scalp and Covington has the highest payday he could muster outside of a title shot.
But there is more than just a victory on the line. These two shared a gym, a house and a bond before the breakdown of their relationship.
Now they simply share a mutual loathing that forms the backdrop to a hugely exciting fight at UFC 272.