American Top Team owner Dan Lambert played a major part in creating the Colby Covington you see today, but even he couldn’t have predicted how far Covington would take his act.
Lambert has become well known in the combat sports world not just for the incredible success of the athletes fighting out of his famed gym, but also for his dalliances in the professional wrestling world. He is currently the All Elite Wrestling managing director and has brought in MMA superstars like Jorge Masvidal and Junior dos Santos.
One could then assume that Lambert was responsible for the polarizing and bombastic persona Covington created years ago to increase his popularity. Ahead of his former pupil’s grudge match with Jorge Masvidal this Saturday in the main event of UFC 272 in Las Vegas, Lambert revealed on The MMA Hour that he helped Covington develop a character.
“I may have put an ingredient or two into the early mix of what you see now, I didn’t think Dr. Frankenstein was going to come along and add every other ingredient in the world to it and make it blow up the way it blew up,” Lambert said. It’s one thing to ******* on one country, or on a specific guy in order to get people under your skins. But it’s quite another to go all out and do it on everyone in the sport. Women and men, people of different weights and even people from your gym.
“If I had seen it going down that direction and knew then what I know now about what a distraction it would be for our gym, I probably would have tried to insert myself a little differently into that equation.”
The way Covington has often told it, he was on the cusp of being released amid a four-fight win streak before a clash with Demian Maia in Brazil in October 2017. After defeating Maia, Covington cut a now-infamous promo in which he directed offensive remarks at the Brazilian crowd, referring to them as “filthy animals.”
Since then, Covington has become an interim champion and twice headlined pay-per-views opposite undisputed welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Given his continued success, Lambert can’t fault his methods.
“If the story had gone the way it looked like it was gonna go and he had one fight left and then was gonna be unemployed and looking to go fight somewhere else versus what he’s accomplished and the money he’s made and the notoriety he’s gained, positively or negatively, I think it worked out pretty damn well for Colby,” Lambert said. “So I think some of the initial advice that I may have given him was probably sound advice at the time.”
Lambert regrets that he did not intervene earlier when Covington began to make ATT uncomfortable. Covington began to gain notoriety and used interviews as a way of hurling insults at his teammates, including Dustin Poirier, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Masvidal, and Dustin Poirier.
Lambert realized that the situation was out of control at this point.
“It got uncomfortable when it started being directed at other people in our gym,” Lambert said. “When he first got back from Brazil after the Demian Maia fight, it was what it was and a couple of people were rubbed the wrong way and a couple of the coaches on the team were getting blown up by people from back in Brazil like, ‘What are you doing? You must stand up for your country. This guy must be thrown out. How are you not fighting this guy?’ That was easy to overcome. I grabbed everyone and told them to sit down. It’s out of the gym. What happens outside of the gym is outside of the gym. We’re American Top Team, not American, Brazilian or this and that. It’s your team. And that was easy, that was an easy sell.
“Once stuff started getting directed at Masvidal and Dustin and Joanna and it started becoming internal, that’s when it got uncomfortable and it got uncomfortable quick. It’s important to feel comfortable walking into your gym. That’s gotta be a comfortable zone where everybody’s there to help each other and when it gets the other way it became a distraction pretty quick.”
Lambert tried to resolve the problem by calling for an end to public trash talking and implementing house rules. That cease-fire was immediately ignored as Masvidal continued to take public shots at Covington, forcing Lambert to exile both fighters from the gym.
He recalled that he had sent Masvidal and Covington the same message with a concise and clear text.
“I said, ‘I liked you guys both better when you were fighting in prelims and we were broke as s*** and you cared more about the gym than you did about yourselves,'” Lambert said. “‘Neither one of you are welcome back. “I hope that you will fight one another soon and that you both beat the crap out of eachother
Lambert said that Covington handled the situation better than Masvidal, and seemed to be in peace. (Covington hasn’t returned to ATT since). It was a different story with “Street Jesus,” with whom Lambert has shared a longer relationship.
“Masvidal called and asked me if I was lucid. I can’t be kicked out of this team. I’ve been here longer than anybody. When a few of you guys pass away, I will be third in line for the gym’s management. I’m not going anywhere,” Lambert said.
Lambert eventually stated that Masvidal was banned from ATT by his children. Masvidal then returned to the gym after three months.
As for Covington, Lambert believes that there’s no beef between the two of them and described Covington as “a pretty good heel.” That said, he also thinks that Covington’s shtick would have worked without creating so much internal conflict at ATT.
“I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Lambert said. He didn’t seem to have the best interest of his team in mind. I think he could have changed it up a little bit and been just as effective. He could have made a mockery of the opponent from any country and taken the MAGA train around the country, pissed half the country off in his hatred for Donald Trump. I believe everything would have worked out fine.
” I don’t believe he had to do that. But it worked for him. When you add the fact that his fighter is a very talented fighter and the fact that it’s almost always a win, it’s just better. You can do it better at a smaller gym with fewer targets .”