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Don't talk about Colby Covington's toughness without talking about Kamaru Usman first

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Colby Covington (L) takes a punch from UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman during their UFC 245 title fight at T-Mobile Arena on Dec, 14, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Conventional wisdom is hardly ever the result of deep thinking. It also rarely results in useful analysis.

A funny thing happened along the way to Colby Covington getting beaten by Kamaru Usman on Saturday night in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC 245. Covington went from being booed at the weigh-in on Friday to getting patted on the back for being “tough” in a losing effort.

What’s more, ringside judges had him up on the cards heading into the fifth round where he was eventually finished, and fans and media have wondered out loud if the referee’s stoppage was justified. Let’s move quickly past these two absurdities and onto more nuanced issues — through four rounds Covington was cut open, bleeding and had his jaw broken.

In the fifth round he was dropped to the canvas twice in a matter of ten seconds, then lay face-down, on all fours while absorbing at least five to six more punches to the head from Usman. Then, the fight was stopped.

Then, Covington was rushed to the hospital. Usman deserved the TKO win and Covington needed referee and medical intervention to stop him from sustaining more damage.

Moving on now to Covington’s transition from unpopular juggernaut to sympathetic plucky loser. Yes, Colby Covington is tough.

He did pretend to get fouled when punched in the jaw and asked the referee to intercede on his behalf and penalize Usman for no reason, but that notwithstanding, of course Covington is tough. Every single fighter on the UFC 245 card and every other pro card you’ve ever watched is durable, mentally strong and all-around “tough” to an extent that it’s difficult for most fans and media to comprehend.

Fighters usually train and fight injured. They fight on through immense adversity in and out of the cage.

We need to appreciate that, and appreciate how it’s a given. It occurs to me, however, that in the context of this fight Usman’s own indomitable spirit is being vastly overlooked.

Keeping calm and showing good grace amid racism directed at him the way Kamaru Usman (R) has, deserves awe and respect. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Getting beaten up and fighting on the way Covington did is indeed tough. Here are a few other things that are also tough that he knows nothing about:

Being a black man and an immigrant, as Usman is, having to fight a man who is close with and has the support of President Donald Trump — a president who is also personal friends with your promoter and UFC president Dana White and who has had thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers locked in concentration camps that currently operate in our borders, a president who before he ever entered politics waged a war of words against young black men — is tough.

It’s also tough, especially in that context, to be that black man and hear the crowd chant your opponent’s name as you fight him — the same fighter who has called you “boy,” and who said that the only way your family has served the United States has been by serving prison sentences. It’s also tough hearing the crowd chant “USA! USA!” for your opponent even though you’re an American as he is, you just have darker skin.

Hate crimes in the U.S. are on the rise. Anti-immigrant sentiment, violence and policies are on the rise.

With that backdrop and while also having your opponent spout racist rhetoric and make fun of your African heritage — alternately saying you’re not really African and then that you’re not really a contributing American — simply being a black immigrant is tough, and Usman doesn’t get proper credit for it.

In the hours and days since Usman beat Covington, media members and fans were quick to praise his toughness after Usman beat him down. As if going from hated loudmouth to getting TKO’d was some sort of particular accomplishment.

Contrasting world views and moral values went head-to-head at UFC 245 as well as great athletes. How we discuss battles like that say a lot about us as a society. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Another troubling narrative that seems to becoming conventional wisdom is that Usman’s victory was simply a matter of his superior physical power overtaking Covington’s game toughness. The narrative of the powerful and athletic black athlete overwhelming the hardworking and plucky white athlete is nothing new, and advancing it here is lazy at best.

Usman’s TKO over Covington brings his UFC KO/TKO mark to a grand total of two. Neither man’s punches tickle, however, Usman is no KO artist. He was the smarter, more patient and tactical striker against Covington, though.

Usman’s precise and technical stand-up work paid off for him against Covington’s own impressive offense which, as usual, largely consisted of attempting to overwhelm his opponent with athleticism and volume. It appears as though the welterweight champion Usman, like Tyron Woodley before him, is sadly on his way to having his own accomplishments and attributes diminished in the dominant MMA pundit discourse.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Let’s all try to look more closely at fights and think and care more deeply about the contexts and issues surrounding them.

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