UFC president Dana White said his promotion will not "muzzle anybody" when he was asked early Thursday morning about the reaction to recent Colby Covington comments, which several UFC fighters labeled as racist.
During a news conference in Abu Dhabi to promote Saturday's UFC 253 card on "Fight Island," White was asked about the fallout from Covington's comments after his win Saturday over Tyron Woodley.
Covington, who is an outspoken supporter of President Trump and received a call from the president after his win, engaged in a heated postfight exchange with welterweight champ Kamaru Usman, who was born in Nigeria. Covington asked Usman if he got a call from his "little tribe" using "smoke signals." He also described Woodley, who is Black and has been advocating for Black Lives Matter, as "a communist, a Marxist, [someone] standing up for lifelong criminals."
It's uncertain how much of what Covington said was relayed to White.
"These guys all have their own causes, things, their own beliefs. We don't muzzle anybody here," White said. "We let everybody speak their mind. I don't know what he said that was racist. I don't know if I heard anything racist that he said."
White then was asked if he would agree it's wrong if something his fighters say is racist. "Of course, c'mon," he said. "I'm not going to play these games with you guys."
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who was sitting next to White and is headlining Saturday's card, was one of three Black fighters who spoke out against Covington during a virtual media day on Wednesday.
"It just shows you the landscape of the media, what it is right now," Adesanya said Wednesday. "I made a joke about dropping [Yoel] Romero like the Twin Towers and everyone lost their mind, even if I said it was a joke and it was pretty funny, but people took it as I was being offensive and like, digging -- but I was making a joke.
"This guy [Covington] has directly insulted my culture, my brother and many other cultures, and no one says anything, but it just shows you a mirror. Shows you a mirror to you guys. So, yeah. I don't really care. Kamaru Usman broke his jaw [when they fought in 2019], so I don't really care."
Bantamweight Sijara Eubanks said, "Let's be real, first and foremost. It wasn't 'unfortunate.' It was flat-out racist. It was racist. It was disgusting. It was quite frankly disappointing, but at the same time, the one thing I appreciate is the UFC lets whoever say whatever. They have never muzzled us as fighters. If you want to talk, if you don't want to talk, if you want to be political, if you don't want to be political, I have to appreciate the company lets us say what we want.
"But to be fair, I think guys that talk like Mike Perry [a UFC fighter who has used the N-word publicly] and Colby Covington, I think a lot of the things they say are racist and disgusting and should be reported as such, instead of 'unfortunate' or 'controversial.' It's racist."
Featherweight Hakeem Dawodu, said, "It's crazy that comments like that are causing more and more divide amongst the people. That's how he gets down, but I'm not really with that and I took offense to that for sure. ... [The UFC] was almost worried about my walkout song, and he's gonna be saying stuff like that? That's crazy."
Covington has a history of using racially charged language around his fights. In 2017, Covington referred to Brazil as "a dump," and called Brazilians "filthy animals" prior to a fight against Demian Maia in Sao Paulo, Brazil.