Long before Covington was an outspoken agitator, and one of the top fighters in the world at 170 pounds, he was a stalwart in the training rooms at American Top Team where Lawler was the top dog as he pursued the UFC welterweight title.
At the time, the Florida-based gym had produced dozens upon dozens of elite contenders but they had never one of their own go onto win a UFC title. Lawler was determined to change that as he prepared for a fight against then champion Johny Hendricks and Covington was by his side showing support along the way.
“I used to train with him all the time. He was getting ready for Johny Hendricks, a southpaw wrestler, so I was training with him for both of those training camps,” Covington said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I know everything that he does. I know his coaches. I was doing everything to help him.
“I was on his time schedule, everything Lawler needed to get ready because Dan Lambert came to me and he said ‘hey we need this fight, we need Robbie Lawler to bring this belt back to ATT for the first time in UFC history, we need you to step up Colby’ so I was there for him.”
Lawler captured UFC gold but eventually lost it when he faced Tyron Woodley in a title fight in 2016. The fight caused plenty of friction because Woodley was also a longtime member of American Top Team, although he didn’t regularly train at the same facility where Lawler called home.
Afterwards, Lawler exited the team for good and ended up training just down the road in Florida at the Blackzilians facility, which later transitioned into his current home at Hard Knocks 365 under the tutelage of head coach Henri Hooft.
Lawler never really addressed the split outside of saying it was no longer the place for him when he left but Covington claims his exit stemmed from a photo of Woodley that was blown up and put on the wall at the American Top Team facility alongside other champions the gym has produced.
“He turned his back on us. After all that, he turned his back on us. He took his ball and he left the yard. It’s sad because he left the yard because of a picture,” Covington said.
“That’s 100 percent true. It’s sad because as much as a silver spoon that Lawler was fed while he was here, he had the most funding that any ATT fighter has ever had in the history of the gym and then to just turn his back on us and leave the gym because of a picture.”
Ironically, Covington also trains under that same photo of Woodley after he engaged in a heated rivalry with the former champion. Covington says the difference between him and Lawler is that he let that photo of Woodley motivate him to accomplish greater things so he could join that same wall of champions.
“I worked my hardest next to that picture and then I earned my way the hard way and I got picture right next to it with my belt,” Covington said. “I didn’t care about no picture. No picture was going to deter me from my goals.
“It’s sad that Lawler felt that way but at the end of the day, we found out he’s a little whiner and he’s a complainer and I’m going to handle him accordingly.”
Covington also took a shot at Lawler for his perceived slight against American Top Team owner Dan Lambert when he left the team.
Lambert is highly regarded amongst the athletes who train at the Coconut Creek gym, which is why Covington fiercely defended him against Lawler following his exit.
“The problem wasn’t Dan Lambert. The problem was Robbie Lawler,” Covington said. “It didn’t work out in Iowa, it didn’t work out in Florida with American Top Team, it didn’t work out in Arizona.
“The problem is Robbie Lawler obviously. He’s silver spoon fed and he’s a diva. At the end of the day, that’s not cool.”
The way Covington sees it, American Top Team was responsible for Lawler’s rebirth after he returned to the UFC and went on an incredible tear that saw him become UFC welterweight champion. Since leaving the gym, Lawler has 1-2 in his past three fights and Covington wants nothing more than to add another defeat to his resume this weekend.
“You forget when Robbie came to American Top Team, he was a broken down man. He was nothing,” Covington said. “We built him back up with our coaching, our funds, everything and then he just turns his back on us over one loss? Because of a picture?
“It’s just sad. I can’t wait to punch him in the face on Aug. 3.”