And, more importantly, he believes Adesanya should want him to.
Earlier this month, Covington put forth a dominant performance at UFC 272, outclassing Jorge Masvidal en route to a unanimous decision win. The victory solidified Covington’s spot atop the welterweight contenders, but with “Chaos” already having two losses to current champion Kamaru Usman, he remains well outside the title picture. As a result, Covington called for another grudge match, this time against former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier, but Poirier is uninterested. And that’s a good thing, according to Sonnen, who believes that Covington should aim a little higher, towards Adesanya.
“I think he needs to go up to 185,” Sonnen said on his ESPN+ show. “Look, Colby has called out three guys in the last two weeks: He, of course, called out Kamaru Usman; he called out Israel Adesanya; and he called out Dustin Poirier. Now you’ve got to understand, the one thing those three guys have in common is they all have world championship belts somewhere on the mantle at home. These are hard callouts by ‘Chaos,’ but ‘Chaos,’ who’s obviously a No. 1 contender, does not get a fight for a championship. It’s a tough spot.
“So he’s saying, ‘Look, I’m even willing to leave the division. Let me take this golden ticket of No. 1 contender and let me cash it in at 185 pounds.’ And quite frankly, nobody needs Colby as bad as Izzy Adesanya. I don’t know if Israel is aware of that yet, but he’s starting to fight people that aren’t doing their job in the media, that aren’t bringing the attention, that aren’t helping the brand and making the marquee fight as big as it could be. I think if Izzy stood back and saw what Colby has to offer, that’s gonna be a partner that he would like to do business with.”
Covington has previously suggested that he’d be happy to move up to 185 pounds and “drown” Adesanya with his pace and wrestling, but Adesanya has shown no interest in facing Covington. The UFC middleweight champion recently defended his in a rematch with Robert Whittaker at UFC 271, and is now expected to take on Jared Cannonier — a fight Adesanya has been interested in for some time.
But Sonnen argues that neither Cannonier nor any other current middleweight contender can bring eyeballs to a fight like Covington, likening this situation to his own rivalry with Anderson Silva.
“I’ll insert myself into this: There was once a fighter named Anderson Silva, and everybody knew how great he was but Anderson had a hard time drawing attention, but only because people thought they knew how the movie was going to end,” Sonnen said. “He finally got a counterpart that captivated the imagination of the world to think, ‘Wait a minute, this guy could actually beat him.’ I think that Izzy is that good. I think that Izzy needs that.
“The mere fact that Jared Cannonier is asking to be a No. 1 contender but has never once said, ‘I have the skills and I have what it takes, the fortitude, to go out and beat the guy,’ I think it’s a problem. I think how absolutely silent Robert Whittaker stayed leading into their second contest is a problem. The one thing that Izzy would like is a little bit of tension, and he’s got the right to want that. He’s got an ego and he’s got skills, he’d like a lot of people to tune in when he shows them off. Colby Covington will satisfy those eyeballs.”
While Covington’s particular brand of trash talk likely would generate some amount of interest for such a fight, Adesanya is doing just fine on his own. The UFC middleweight champion has consistently drawn over 500,000 buys on pay-per-view and recently inked a new contract with the UFC that is “one of the most lucrative multi-fight deals” in company history.