HISCOE: What UFC on ESPN ratings mean for Colby Covington’s future

By Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Columnist

Colby Covington
Aug 3, 2019; Newark, NJ, USA; Colby Covington (red gloves) fights Robbie Lawler (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC on ESPN 5 ratings are in. What do they mean for Colby Covington?

Last week in this space, we talked about Colby Covington’s biggest test at UFC Newark would be of his drawing power. Covington affirmed as much by making easy work of Robbie Lawler, taking a unanimous decision in an impressive performance that puts him in the queue for a welterweight title shot.

So Covington got it done in the cage, but how did he do at the box office or in the TV ratings? Well, he’s definitely not the next Conor McGregor, he’s not even the next Chael Sonnen, but it’s not all bad either.

The gate for UFC Newark, Covington’s first time headlining a show, was not great. The show saw 10,427 fans paying $687,778 at the box office. Both numbers were the lowest of any event held at Newark’s Prudential Center.

TV viewership was also low. An average of 680,000 viewers tuned in for the event. This is the lowest of the five UFC events on ESPN since the partnership began this year. It’s difficult to take away too much from this number since the 3:00 PM ET start for the main card is outside of UFC’s typical Saturday night timeslot.

That said, last week we said that anything over 800,000 viewers would have to be considered a home run. Covington definitely didn’t hit that homer, but at just shy of 700,000 viewers, he is at least on base.

What this means is that all of the talk of Covington being one of UFC’s top draws needs to slow down. He’s not a flop, but he may turn out to be nothing more than a serviceable main eventer for lower-level pay-per-views or your weekly TV events.  This isn’t a bad thing, his opponent Saturday, Robbie Lawler, has made a career of being such a caliber star.

This also may mean that Covington might not be a lock to be the next challenger for Kamaru Usman’s welterweight championship. He was all but guaranteed a shot when he became interim welterweight champion last year, but that didn’t pan out. In the cage, Covington did more than enough to earn himself a title shot, but timing and circumstances may work against him once again.

The person most likely to steal that title shot away from Covington is Jorge Masvidal. I made the case for Masvidal to get the next shot a few weeks ago, and I stand by that opinion. Google search results seem to favor Masvidal as well. Searches for “Colby Covington” on Saturday were only 37% of the number of searches for “Jorge Masvidal” on the night of his 5-second win over Ben Askren at UFC 239.

Another thing to watch out for is how UFC handles Covington moving forward. Needle movers like McGregor or Jon Jones get away with a lot of bad behavior because of the fact that they are difference makers. If Covington falls in that mid-tier of UFC draws, UFC may be less tolerant of what he says and does, when there may be safer choices who can fill the same slot.

All of this to say, that Covington’s act (and it’s clearly an act, I refuse to believe that a person can be so naturally obnoxious) may need some refinement. Antagonism just for the sake of it is not enough to get fans to invest their time or money in a product.

Covington has the potential to be a real draw for UFC, but he’s not there yet.

More from Mike Hiscoe:

HISCOE: What can MMA learn from boxing’s tragic week?

HISCOE: Should we be taking it easy on Greg Hardy?

HISCOE: How this year’s UFC Hall of Fame inductees stack up against each other

HISCOE: Why Dana White shouldn’t be influencing fight results and what he might be after here

HISCOE: Chael Sonnen cuts the cord on a fun but flawed career

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