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‘I’ve always hated the guy’: Inside the feud between Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley



Colby Covington was holed up in a St. Louis hotel room. It was early 2014, and Covington was flown in to be part of Tyron Woodley‘s training camp for his fight against Rory MacDonald at UFC 174.

Covington, who was 26 and had only five pro fights under his belt, was hired to be a sparring partner for his fellow American Top Team fighter, but Covington was hoping there would be something more to it, something mutually beneficial.

“The experience was very fake,” Covington told ESPN. “I could tell that the first day after training. He wasn’t bringing me in as a teammate or this and that. He was trying to tee off on me. He was trying to look good and build his confidence off of me. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I’m not here to be a sparring partner. I’m here to win my own world title and to be the best fighter in the world.

“I thought I’d be there, we’d do some things at night, hang out. No, I got left at the hotel — find your own way. And that’s what I did.”

For six years, Covington has carried that resentment. It became public in 2017, when Covington began campaigning for a title shot against Woodley, who was the UFC welterweight champion. The trash talk grew personal, but the bout never materialized after several tries.

Until now.

Covington vs. Woodley will headline Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

“I’ve always hated the guy,” Covington said, “since that training.”

It’s one of the most heated rivalries in the history of the UFC’s welterweight division. And, in a way, it was the launchpad for Covington’s current pro wrestling-style heel persona.

Long before Covington’s feuds with current champ Kamaru Usman and former teammate Jorge Masvidal, Covington’s crude barbs were directed at Woodley, and Woodley had no problem giving them back just as sharply.

“I thought Colby-Usman was Colby-T-Wood light,” said American Top Team owner Dan Lambert, Covington’s former agent and a longtime confidante of Woodley. “It was a lot of what Colby-T-Wood could have been, but not everything it could have been. There’s just so many layers to [Covington vs. Woodley].”

Woodley, who is six years older than Covington, considered himself a mentor to the young fighters — especially the wrestlers — at American Top Team. In fact, ATT started a program for high-level college wrestlers about eight years ago, partly based on Woodley’s success representing the team. Lambert said the gym put an ad out with the Flo Wrestling website asking for wrestlers to come to try out for ATT. Dozens showed up, but only five were selected. Covington was one of the five.

“And it was all based upon me,” Woodley told ESPN’s UFC Fight Camp. “So his affiliation [with ATT] before I even met him came from my hard work and my mentality and my work ethic.”

Woodley and Covington first met during that camp in 2014, when Qui Tran, a restaurateur, flew Covington into Woodley’s hometown of St. Louis, where Woodley owns his own American Top Team affiliate, ATT Evolution. Mai Lee, Tran’s Vietnamese restaurant, was a sponsor for both fighters.

Covington said he didn’t like the initial vibe he got from training with Woodley. Covington said the training on the mats was one-sided, focused on a singular goal: improving Woodley. Covington also said Woodley attempted to give him advice about his career — “a lot of bad ideas,” he said.

“There was always a rivalry when we stepped on the mats and trained together. When they lock that Octagon, the truth is gonna come to light.”

Colby Covington

“He was trying to tell me about a model or way I should build my brand,” Covington said. “He’s always been about the brand. It doesn’t matter about the fighting, it’s about building the brand. At the end of the day, fighting is fighting. You get locked in the cage, and if you get your hand raised everything speaks for itself. I don’t really care about a brand. I’m here to fight and be the best in the world.”

To those who sense a degree of hypocrisy in Covington criticizing someone else for embracing a brand while he rejuvenated his career by crafting what he’s admitted is an over-the-top persona, let him explain.

“I don’t look at it like a brand,” Covington said. “He looked at it completely different, like all that mattered was the brand.

“I’m here to fight, and I want to fight my heart out and I want to keep winning and do what I do best.”

Din Thomas, Woodley’s head coach, has a different recollection of the few days Covington spent in St. Louis. Thomas said Covington didn’t click with the group and actually left town earlier than scheduled. Covington, Thomas said, “wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with.”

“Most guys when they come out to camp, Tyron takes them out to eat,” Thomas said. “There were times Tyron has taken us all out for laser tag or to the movies, and that stuff wasn’t happening with Colby. He wanted to be off on his own, doing his own thing and even in the gym, he would peel off and start lifting weights or whatever on his own when he felt like it. He didn’t give off that vibe that he wanted to be part of the team.

“All the other sparring partners we’ve brought out over the years will say they’ve had a good time, made some money and went home. Even in just drilling he would try to refuse to allow Tyron to get an advantage everywhere, and you know, I think he was being more competitive. We were looking to get work and get reps, and I think maybe in his own mind he was giving himself a tryout to see how he stacked up against Tyron.”

Covington said he handled Woodley in sparring. Thomas said Woodley was “just better.”

“Colby used to be my warm-up guy,” Woodley said in an Instagram video he posted in 2018. “I hate to break the news to you, but I used to pay him to beat him up. Five hundred bucks a week, plus food, plus hotel, plus rental car, plus gun range, plus entertainment, plus personal trainers, pad work, massage therapy, yoga. I spoiled [him], now all of a sudden he’s bumping his gums.”

Woodley thought he settled his issues with Covington on Aug. 23, 2014, when they were backstage during a UFC card in Macau, China. Covington was making his UFC debut and Woodley was in the co-main event.

“I remember telling him, ‘You’re an asshole. I want to whoop your ass,'” Woodley said. “‘But I’m literally gonna squash all the beef. We’ve both got work to do.’

“We squashed it up in the locker room then and said a prayer before we went out there and fought.”

Woodley beat Dong Hyun Kim that night to start a three-fight winning streak that culminated with him capturing the welterweight title by first-round knockout over Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 on July 30, 2016.

Covington also won that night and began his UFC career 7-1, but he was told that winning was not enough. Covington has said that the UFC told him his wrestling-heavy style wasn’t exciting to fans and he was on the verge of being cut.

So, Covington, a longtime fan of pro wrestling, developed a biting, “heel” persona. And Woodley was one of his first trash-talking targets, beginning in June 2017.

“Last time I trained with him, he wasn’t even competitive,” Covington said at the time. “I’ll break him in half.”

Covington crossed the line with his new, antagonistic persona on Oct. 28, 2017, when he called Brazilian fans “filthy animals” after beating Demian Maia in Sao Paulo. ATT star Amanda Nunes lashed out at her ATT teammate on social media. That same year, Woodley defended his title against Maia and Stephen Thompson.

Covington and Woodley were on a collision course.

In early 2018, Covington began calling Woodley “TyQuil” because, Covington said, Woodley’s fights put people to sleep. On Feb. 3, 2018, Covington did a skit at an independent pro wrestling show in New Jersey, with an opponent called “TyQuil Woodley,” whom Covington promptly beat up.

After defeating Maia, Covington called for a title shot, but he said Woodley — who was dealing with a thumb injury — was “ducking” him. The UFC booked Covington against Rafael dos Anjos for the interim welterweight title at UFC 225 on June 9, 2018. Woodley called it the “boo-boo belt,” because he felt there was no reason for the UFC to install an interim title since he wouldn’t be out all that long.

“I’ve just got to whoop [Covington’s] ass,” Woodley told MMA Junkie in April 2018. “He’s doing a lot of barking.”

Covington dominated dos Anjos, winning a unanimous decision to take the interim title. By all accounts, it should have been Woodley vs. Covington to unify the title next. But that didn’t happen.

Woodley was set to return in September 2018, but Covington needed sinus surgery. The UFC didn’t wait for him. Instead, the promotion gave Darren Till the title shot against Woodley at UFC 228 on Sept. 8, 2018. Woodley won by second-round submission.

“I was stunned that they did not try to do that [Woodley vs. Covington] title fight when it was there,” Lambert said. “It did not make a lot of sense to me. I feel like they rushed Till into that spot.”

With Woodley winning, the Covington fight was still a possibility. Once again, Covington was told he’d get the next title shot. And once again, it didn’t happen. Covington wasn’t able to come to terms with the UFC, and Usman was granted the opportunity against Woodley at UFC 235 on March 2, 2019.

Covington said it was Usman’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, whose relationship with the UFC allowed Usman to hurdle over him in the welterweight pecking order.

“He’s talked himself out of three world title fights,” Woodley said at a UFC Q&A in September 2019. “He was supposed to fight me before I fought Till, he b—-ed out of that fight. He was supposed to fight me before I fought Usman, he b—-ed out of that fight. You guys can do the math as to what he did with the Usman fight.”

During UFC 235 fight week, Covington crashed Usman’s open workout at the MGM Grand, talking trash and causing a stir with fans. Usman ended up defeating Woodley by unanimous decision.

Woodley and Covington moved on from each other. Covington, focused on a title shot, beat Lawler on Aug. 3, 2019, to set up a bout with Usman.

Meanwhile, Woodley was dealing with a hand injury.

Covington finally got his first chance at the undisputed title at UFC 245 on Dec. 14, 2019. But Usman beat him by fifth-round TKO in a back-and-forth war. Both men were left bloody at the end and Covington suffered a jaw injury.

“I wasn’t impressed,” Woodley told TMZ after that fight. “I was really disgusted. I wanted to throw up, the fact that I lost to Usman. If I would’ve punched Colby, he may be on life support right now.

“When I’m looking at how many punches those guys took, I was impressed by their durability, I was impressed by the fact that they kept doing it over and over again — it was kind of a teeter-tottering thing — but as far as IQ, move your f—ing head maybe?”

Woodley returned to the Octagon for the first time since his loss to Usman when he fought Gilbert Burns on May 30. There was talk of Covington vs. Woodley in that slot, but again it didn’t come together when the UFC and Covington couldn’t come to terms.

“The thing is, his last fight he looked so washed up, the UFC wants to see if he has anything left in the tank, so they want to see if he can prove himself to earn the losing ass-whooping paycheck to me,” Covington told MMA Fighting before Woodley vs. Burns. “This is a test by the UFC — they’re making him fight some kid named Dilbert, nobody even knows who Dilbert is.”

Burns won by unanimous decision. It seemed at the time that Covington vs. Woodley might be lost for good, but talks resurfaced about that fight headlining a card in August. Woodley said he was still healing from the Burns fight, but could do it in September. Covington agreed.

“Yes, I will fight him,” Woodley said on Instagram in July. “But I’m gonna do a camp. I’m not gonna go out there and fight Colby Covington without a full camp.”

Woodley has had his camp. And he brought in Masvidal to train with him in St. Louis. Woodley and Masvidal trained together for years through their American Top Team connection and have been friendly for a decade.

Covington brushed off the addition of Masvidal, who is nicknamed “Street Jesus” because he “baptizes” opponents by knocking them out.

“Woodley is a smart man,” Covington said. “He brought in the ‘Street Judas’ Masvidal to learn how to lose. Because I’ve been training with Jorge for nine years and I beat his ass every day. He’s a joke. I’m sure he’s training Woodley to learn how to lose and how to get his ass beat by me. That’s all he ever did.

“It doesn’t really affect me. They’re trying to get in my head, but how is that going to get in my head when I could beat you both in the same night?”

Woodley has made it clear how much this fight means to him, calling it perhaps the biggest of his career. He has lost two straight. The former champ is 38. On Instagram last week, Woodley vowed he would throw more punches and make the most out of his one-punch knockout power, something he has struggled with recently.

Covington admitted that Woodley has more to gain than he does. Covington’s previous fight was for a title and he’s still ranked No. 2 in the world at welterweight by ESPN. Woodley is No. 8.

A win here could propel Covington back into a title fight. And, he said, it’s a chance for him to prove what would have happened if he and Woodley had fought in 2018 or 2019 while Woodley was champion.

“There was always a rivalry when we stepped on the mats and trained together,” Covington said. “When they lock that Octagon, the truth is gonna come to light.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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