“I’m going to have to handle him accordingly as the team captain of ATT" Covington (14-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC).
The confrontational ex-interim champ has positive memories of Lawler’s time at the famed MMA gym. Covington said he trained extensively with Lawler, a former undisputed champ, and was mentored by the heavy-handed slugger when he was still an up-and-coming fighter.
That changed in 2016, after Tyron Woodley took the belt from Lawler (28-13 MMA, 13-7 UFC) at UFC 201.
A picture memorializing that moment, posted at ATT, is the reason Lawler left the gym, according to Covington. The former interim champ said Lawler “turned his back” to family and “besmirched” ATT’s owner and his manager, Dan Lambert.
Although well known for his promotional bluster, Covington is fiercely loyal to Lambert, who when contacted by MMA Junkie said he didn’t want to talk about fighters who are no longer at the gym.
“All the money that Dan put into him, Dan literally spoon-fed him,” Covington said of Lawler. “Robbie had everything. I had to earn everything at ATT the hard way. Robbie had all the training partners. They were flying in training partners, all the best coaches, paying for whatever. The funding for him and his training camps was out of this world. No one had ever had that at ATT."
“Literally, he had it better than anybody in the history of this gym, and then he just takes his ball and leaves the yard.”
Lawler’s manager, Dave Martin, received a request for comment but did not immediately reply via text.
At the time the fight was booked, Covington had been holding out for a title shot against champ Kamaru Usman and appeared to be next in line for a golden opportunity. But the UFC shifted gears when it was unable to book a marquee headliner for UFC on ESPN 5 in August, and Lambert said the promotion demanded Covington first fight Lawler. at the Aug. 3 event, that airs on ESPN from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The way Covington sees things, he’s defending his belt against a better draw. He isn’t holding out for a title shot any longer, though he expects to get one if successful against Lawler.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m the people’s champ, America’s champ,” he said. “I took this fight because I need to defend my title, and I’m getting paid undisputed championship pay, so it’s time to defend my title."
“If we’re being honest, if you go out on the street and ask who’s a bigger name, Robbie Lawler or Kamaru Usman, I guarantee 10 out of 10 people are going to say Robbie Lawler.”
Bad blood is also an incentive for Covington, who thrives on pre-fight trash talk.
“He was a good friend and a good training partner,” Covington said of Lawler. “He wasn’t out there to kill me back then, and that was different than Woodley. With Woodley, we used to get in serious fistfights. He’d start going hard when I was going light with him, and I’d have to take him down and wear him down, make him quit."
“With Robbie, we always trained with control. We always saved that (expletive) for the octagon. We had a good friendship. He helped me out with a lot of sponsors. But he turned his back on us, so it’s personal. I really do want to leave Robbie in a pool of his own blood. I’m pissed off what he did to Dan Lambert.”
Covington said he’s well aware of the skills his opponent brings to the table and has drawn up a solid gameplan to deal with Lawler’s vaunted power.
“You have to be careful with that guy, because one punch can put you out,” Covington said. “I know what I need to do. We have a very good gameplan."
“He doesn’t know what’s coming. Actually, he does know what’s coming, but it’s not going to be pretty for him.”