Amoja Sumler

On Colby Covington and Failing Up

(image source: still from YouTube video)

Colby Covington’s MAGA jaw needed to be reattached after losing, and yet his name is being bandied about favorably by media. How did he accomplish this?


“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.” —Raging Bull


For the better part of 2019, one mouth has risen above almost every other athlete in mixed martial arts: an up and coming fighter affectionately nicknamed “Chaos.”

With the seasoned “shoot” skills one would almost expect from a WWE veteran, Colby “Chaos” Covington takes aim at any and everything he doesn’t like (and, other than Trump, there isn’t much that he does). Make no mistake, Colby “Chaos” Covington “plays the role” of a street-tough, MAGA-hat-wearing, Donald Trump-worshiping White Nationalist. Imagine Tomi Lahren in four-ounce gloves.

When it comes to “Chaos,” no one is safe, but one name has been his most favored target for abuse: the defending welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman.

On December 14th, Usman and Covington finally fought. The fight did not go well and was eventually stopped by a referee who decided he had seen more than enough. Colby “Chaos” Covington was ruled down by way of technical knockout, and yet his future looks pretty bright indeed. When we talk about what “failing up” looks like, I don’t think you get a better example than Colby “Chaos” Covington.

During this exhibition, Colby committed at least two personal fouls against Usman: one a blatant groin shot, the other an eye poke. Later in the bout, during a particularly one-sided exchange, Colby coaxed a break from the ref insinuating that he himself had received an eye poke. In many sanctioned bouts, this behavior alone could have cost up to three points. Never was he so much as warned with (much less docked) a single point lost.


When we talk about what “failing up” looks like, I don’t think you get a better example than Colby “Chaos” Covington.


By the fifth round, the fight had turned ugly with Colby having been violently knocked off his feet—twice. Soon afterwards, after being mounted by Usman, Covington “gave up his back” (a universal sign of surrender in combat sports). By the time the ref finally intervened, Colby, who can barely talk because somewhere in all this his mouth had literally been beaten shut and his jaw had been broken, gesticulates and demonstrates a feigned surprise, as if he has no idea why the fight has been stopped.

Lacking the ability to talk, he takes to the internet and goes all Twitter fingers, discussing how “he was robbed”; he blames the ref, the promoter, everyone (it seems) except himself is at fault. To date, Dana White has made no indication that Covington will face administrative discipline from the promotion in spite of compromising the UFC brand by suggesting that the referee “was fake.”

It would be shortsighted to not acknowledge how, now, Colby Covington controls the whole frame of the narrative. Now, even in the face of his obvious demolition, the prevailing story has become, “Wow, he fought through a broken jaw!” When the point of a good fighter is to dodge or deflect the attack, his absolute failure to defend himself becomes the rallying cry for why the challenger deserves another shot because, after all, “Look at how tough he is!”

Though he was not the champion, there are people suggesting that the champion should have to fight Covington again because “Colby did such a good job.” In fighting, this simply does not happen. A champion, upon losing, is often allowed a rematch. A defeated challenger? Almost never does such a thing happen. Sometimes, a defeated champion is not afforded such a grace. Andy Ruiz, anyone? Wasn’t he tough? Didn’t Ruiz show a rock-solid jaw? Colby “Chaos” Covington’s treatment by the media demonstrates the efficiency with which White masculinity utilizes gaslighting and systemic advantage as the ultimate superpower.

When we consider Usman, a different quote becomes applicable. Consider the paradox that Gloria in White Men Can’t Jump offers us:

“Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. … Winning or losing is all one big organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.”

Even in winning, Usman has lost; even in a loss, Covington has extracted everything he needed to promote himself. This is the very playbook of how to fail up.


Amoja Sumler

Amoja Sumler is a nationally celebrated poet and social activist known for fusing the art of the intellectual into the familiar. As "The Mo-Man," he has headlined spoken word festivals such as the Austin International Poetry Festival, the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, Write NOLA in New Orleans, and Rock the Republic in Texas. A member of both the Arts in Education and Arts on Tour roster for over a decade has seen Amoja serve as a 5-time Poetry Out Loud states finals judge and an artist in residence to Universities and literacy nonprofits across the state of Arkansas. Amoja has also presented at social advocacy conferences like Long Beach Indie Film Pedagogy Conference and Furious Flower as a panelist for The Watering Hole. You may follow his work at or twitter at @momanthepoet.

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