UFC rewind: How Colby Covington saw the first fight against Kamaru Usman

Covington gives his take on eye poke vs. Usman at UFC 245 (1:37)

Colby Covington contends that Kamaru Usman faked getting poked in the eye at UFC 245 in order to refresh himself in their main event matchup. (1:37)

Editor's note: Watch Colby Covington's complete breakdown of his first fight against Kamaru Usman on ESPN MMA YouTube.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Colby Covington didn't talk -- publicly -- for nearly two months after his failed UFC welterweight title bid against Kamaru Usman at UFC 245 in December 2019.

From the outside, it was easy to assume reasons why. Covington (16-2), who will challenge Usman for the second time at UFC 268 on Saturday in New York City, talked a big game during his run up to that first bout. And when he came up short, well, he probably just didn't want to face the music, right? What is there to say when you lose -- particularly via knockout?

And especially when it's possible Covington couldn't talk -- as in, physically could not. He had mentioned to his corner during the fight that he thought he had a broken jaw.

But to hear Covington tell it now, none of that was true. He denies his jaw was broken. No, the former interim champ says he didn't talk in the immediate months after because he wanted to listen. He wanted to hear what the public narrative around the fight would be. He wanted to see if fans and the media would get the story right. After spending years making comments on culture, race and politics that caused a stir, Covington recognized that he had become a polarizing figure.

"I knew going into that fight, a lot of people already had a biased opinion against me," Covington told ESPN. "So, I kind of wanted to sit back and reflect [after]. I didn't want to come out and say anything. I wanted to see how the media was going to spin it. The things they were going to say. Were they going to bring up the things that happened in the fight?"

Suffice it to say, Covington does not think fans and media got it right. He says there should have been a lot more scrutiny on several calls made by referee Marc Goddard, and more emphasis on the fact the fight was tied on the scorecards going into the final round. More emphasis on the fact he landed 143 strikes, more than twice as many landed by any other Usman opponent.

"I wanted to see if they were going to say all of that, but no," Covington said. "They wanted to downplay me. They wanted to say, 'Oh, I got knocked out. It wasn't a competitive fight.' That's the funniest thing that I saw, was the MMA media saying I got finished and it wasn't even competitive -- like I didn't win multiple rounds."

Regardless, Covington's focus is now on Saturday's rematch against Usman (19-1), who is ESPN's No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But his feelings on that first fight still matter, in that they greatly influence his approach to this rematch. Namely, his confidence.

Why does he think he can beat Kamaru Usman? Because he genuinely thinks he was robbed of doing so already.

So, what happened in that fight that Covington is so upset about? What did the public and media miss? Here are his key points.

The stoppage

Much of Covington's disgruntlement stems from the actions of Goddard, a veteran referee from the United Kingdom. And the easiest place to start is Goddard's decision to stop the fight with 50 seconds left.

Midway through the final round, Usman started to take over. He began landing consistent power shots, particularly the right hand. He dropped Covington twice near the one-minute mark -- the second knockdown prompting Covington to go into a turtled position on his knees, grasping at Usman's leg. With Usman landing unanswered punches to the side of the head, Goddard stopped the fight.

Covington immediately protested the stoppage for multiple reasons. First, he'd asked Goddard prior to the fight to let him go out on his shield -- and while he was certainly in trouble, it did not appear he was on the verge of going unconscious. And at the moment the fight was stopped, Covington felt he was in a position he was very comfortable in.

"I made a mistake, a tactical error, my hands were down and I slipped on a banana peel," Covington said, regarding the knockdowns. "But we went to the mat and that's a position I've been in [wrestling] since I was a 5-year-old kid. I'm on a single leg. I'm on a double leg.

"We signed up for fighting. We're not playing volleyball, bro. We're not playing basketball. We're playing fighting. It's kill or be killed in that moment."

Now, Covington's anger around the stoppage does beg the question: Why does it matter? Does he think he could have gotten out of trouble and turned the tide in the final 40 seconds? Even if we give him the greatest benefit of doubt, the likelihood of him winning that fight seems overwhelmingly low.

So, what's so different for Covington today, if Goddard doesn't stop that fight with 50 seconds left?

"It's not fair because if that fight -- if they don't call that fake stoppage -- that fight gets run back right away," Covington said. "It goes to the judges' scorecards and we find out what they have to say. One judge had me up 3-to-1 [going into the fifth]. One had it 2-to-2. [A third had Usman up 3-to-1]. So, he gets the win, but it's a split decision, and we're running it back right away."

"Momentum is huge. You take someone's momentum away, it takes away everything in a sporting event. And that's what [Goddard] did. He took away my momentum. I probably would have won the fight because [Usman] was hurt in that moment. And I would've poured on more pace and he wouldn't have been able to withstand it." Colby Covington on the pause due to a groin kick.

That last part is really the crux of Covington's complaint. In addition to his competitive desire to finish the fight on his own, Covington believes the stoppage played a major role in the overall narrative of the bout -- which, in turn, delayed his opportunity to avenge the loss by two years.

"Man, it's been such a journey [getting this rematch]," Covington said. "It wasn't supposed to happen. Usman and his team did not want it to happen. They were refusing and trying to find every way in the book out of this rematch. They didn't want this fight, man. And the only reason they have to take it is the UFC gave them no choice.

"The fact they called it a finish, that made me have to go out there and win another fight. And it let him duck the rematch for two years."

The groin kick

In addition to feeling like he was robbed of his right to finish the fight, Covington believes he was robbed of another major component of a championship bout: momentum.

Midway through the second round, Goddard briefly paused the action after ruling Covington landed a kick to Usman's groin by accident. Up to that point, statistics indicate Covington was getting the better of the exchanges -- so, he was infuriated when replays appeared to show the kick landed slightly above the groin.

"I had just wobbled him a couple times, he's starting to break a little bit, and then I kicked him in the liver with one of my best kicks, my jumping kick to the liver," Covington said. "It's clear as day. That is not a [foul.] And he gets two minutes to catch his breath.

"Momentum is huge. You take someone's momentum away, it takes away everything in a sporting event. And that's what [Goddard] did. He took away my momentum. I probably would have won the fight because [Usman] was hurt in that moment. And I would've poured on more pace and he wouldn't have been able to withstand it."

To be clear, the pause was only 33 seconds. An MMA fight is chaotic and unpredictable, and the difference between a legal kick and an illegal one can be mere centimeters. Officials, obviously, have to make those decisions in real time.

Let's say the kick was legal, and Goddard simply missed that call, resulting in 30 seconds of recovery for Usman. Is that not, while certainly unlucky, simply part of the game?

Covington doesn't even consider that question, because he believes Goddard -- and the sport in general -- holds a personal bias against him due to his outspoken political stance and media coverage of the way he chooses to promote himself.

"I definitely felt like I was against the world that night," Covington said. "It feels like I'm the most hated man in the UFC, and I probably am. But I get a lot of pride in overcoming all of those circumstances and still being able to go out there and put on one of the greatest fights in the history of the company."

The eye poke

Not all of Covington's frustrations around the first fight are directed at Goddard. Usman, of course, is the target of some.

Late in the third round, Covington landed a left head kick. It was arguably one of his best shots of the fight and certainly that round. In an ensuing exchange, he inadvertently poked Usman in the eye, which prompted Goddard to -- correctly -- intervene and pause the action.

What was interesting about the foul, however, was that replays showed Covington poked Usman's left eye. But once time was called, it was Usman's right eye that received inspection from physicians.

Although he accepts responsibility for this foul, Covington maintains Usman faked the severity of it, in order to recover from the head kick and steal back momentum. The entire delay from this foul was 80 seconds.

"He's concussed," said Covington, about the way the sequence played out. "I just landed a high kick on him and he doesn't know where he's at. So now he's just faking the right eye. 'Hey, let me get an extra breather.' And he just got three, four minutes in the middle of a five-round fight, and now he's refreshed again.

"It hurts, man. It stings really, really badly because not only that moment, but the moment I kicked him in the liver. ... My momentum was so good. It's just not fair. I didn't get a fair shake that night and everybody knows it. And anybody that wants to say differently, that that was a fair fight, man, they're blind and they're not seeing what I'm seeing."

The rematch

Colby Covington is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he's used it -- and continues to use it -- to build his presence in the fight game.

About halfway through his UFC career, it dawned on him that winning wasn't enough. And so, this lifelong fan of professional wrestling cranked up the volume on his personality. In his eyes, he's just giving the sport what it wants. He's winning inside the Octagon and entertaining outside of it.

There are examples of Covington crossing the line of what many would consider tasteful fight promotion. So, if he is "The Most Hated Man in the UFC," as he says, it's fair to argue that he brought it on himself.

Covington, of course, doesn't see it that way. But it shouldn't matter. Whether he's hated or not, he deserves a fair playing field in each fight. He doesn't feel like he got that in 2019.

And the only thing worse than feeling robbed of a fair playing field is feeling like no one else in the world acknowledges it. Going into this rematch at UFC 268, Covington is still frustrated by the wrongs he believes were done to him in the first fight, and that frustration is made worse by his opinion that fans and media completely ignored those wrongs.

So, this weekend is about Covington's attempt to become a world champion, for sure. But it's also about him controlling his own narrative -- and pressuring the rest of the world into seeing what he sees.

"Nov. 6, you will see my full potential," Covington said. "And I can't wait to see what the narrative will be. What will they say after that? Will they start making excuses for Usman? Or will they see me stake my claim and say that I am the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world?"