Colby Covington, American Top Team gym part ways

Covington explains departure from American Top Team (1:44)

Colby Covington speaks with Ariel Helwani about his decision to leave American Top Team, pointing to the issues he had with Jorge Masvidal, Dustin Poirier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. (1:44)

Colby Covington's tumultuous tenure with the American Top Team gym has come to an end, as the UFC welterweight contender announced Wednesday that there has been a mutual parting of the ways.

"I'm affiliated with Colby Covington, Inc., as of now," Covington told ESPN's Ariel Helwani in a video interview. "I'm my own team."

Tension had been growing at the gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, especially between Covington and ATT stars Jorge Masvidal, Dustin Poirier and Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Gym owner Dan Lambert, who also relinquished his role as one of Covington's agents, instituted a rule that teammates couldn't rip each other in public, but it was obvious that rule wouldn't hold back the hostility in the gym.

"I felt bad because of Dan in that situation," Covington said. "For months, he's coming to me, 'Dude, you're putting me in a tough situation. Everybody wants you out. You're making the gym uneasy.' And I didn't want to do that to him. I didn't want to make his life tougher than it already is. He already has enough on his plate.

"I felt like it was the best for me to move on, find some other coaches, find some other training partners and go about my business how I go about my business. The biggest thing is that we're in America. Are we not entitled to our own opinion, don't we have free speech?"

Covington emphasized that he doesn't have a problem with Lambert, just with some of the fighters in the gym. Lambert told ESPN that it was mostly a mutual parting of ways and about Covington he said, "I still love the guy."

Masvidal, one of the UFC's biggest stars, and Covington are former best friends and roommates. Last year, they had a very public falling out with both gunning for the UFC welterweight title. Covington continued to hone his over-the-top persona -- a pro-wresting-style, trash-talker -- and targeted teammates like Masvidal and others. The situation became polarizing at the gym.

In a video interview with Helwani on Wednesday, Masvidal said Covington was setting a "bad example" for the team and MMA. With him gone now, Masvidal said it'll be "like he didn't even exist to me."

"It's somewhat of a religious experience for me, being in here," Masvidal said of the American Top Team facility. "Being in here since a kid. My good days, my bad days, my birthdays. All the days I've spent in this gym sharpening my tools. I truly love this place. So I don't like to see that animosity. Even if he never said a word about me ... what sport are we in that you can insult a woman? He insulted Joanna, he insulted [UFC two-weight women's champ] Amanda [Nunes].

"These people are not in your weight class. I get it, you're trying to do this shtick that you're some type of heel. What does that have to do with a woman? A 115-pound woman, a 135-pound woman. Are you gonna compete against them? Are you gonna sell more pay-per-views because you're talking about Joanna and Amanda?"

Regarding his new gym setup, Covington said he wasn't able to reveal the details but that it will be a team focused around him in South Florida.

"Good things take time to develop," Covington said. "Things are being put in place. I'm putting a lot of hard work in behind the scenes."

Covington has not fought since falling by fifth-round TKO in a welterweight title fight against Kamaru Usman at UFC 245 in December. He said he has been "begging" UFC to return since then with the hope of an Usman rematch or a fight against Masvidal next, perhaps as early as this summer.

"I've been begging to come back and save the sports world, save America," Covington said. "We've gotta see what the UFC wants to do. ... You don't know how motivated I've been, how hungry I've been, how much I want to rewrite every wrong."

Covington (15-2) was on a seven-fight winning streak before losing to Usman. The California native and former Oregon State All-American wrestler is a former UFC interim welterweight champion. ESPN has him ranked No. 3 among MMA welterweights.

Covington, 32, had trained at American Top Team since his MMA career started in 2012.

"I'm done with American Top Team," Covington said. "We had a great run while it lasted. It was time to move on. The sun sets, the sun rises. It's a new chapter."