Covington wagged his tongue, landed his strikes, and coasted to a unanimous decision over Robbie Lawler in the 170-pound main event fight of a rare Saturday afternoon card at the Prudential Center. Trump's two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, rooted on Covington from cageside seats and snapped pics throughout the day with several well-wishers. Covington scaled the cage and smiled as he pointed toward the brothers after securing a 50-44 50-45, 50-45 victory.
Covington visited Trump in the White House last year and the president sent a pre-fight tweet wishing luck for the "Make America Great Again" loyalist. "He just said he appreciates everything I've done, he wants me to come back to the White House to shake his hand again and hang out with him at the Oval Office," Covington said about the phone call. "He just appreciates how much I do. I'm the hard-working American."
The fight mixed politics and the fight game like few others in UFC history. "You know you got a big fight when the President of the United States is tweeting about it," UFC President Dana White tweeted.
Unlike some champions that have distanced themselves from the White House, Covington (15-1) wrapped himself in an American flag after he won and gave shout outs to the Trump family. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA!" soon blared from the speakers to close the show.
"I was truly inspired when the first family came backstage to see me before the fight," Covington said inside the cage . "Let's give it up for the Trumps! They're keeping America great." Eric stood and clapped when Covington — wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat — had his arrival to 10,427 fans at the Prudential Center shown on the big screen. UFC great Georges St-Pierre was in Nasrat Haqparast's corner for a second-round KO win before the retired fighter made his way over to pose for pictures with the Trump brothers .
The brothers flashed thumbs ups for the ESPN camera before the main event. The used their phones to shoot video of Covington's entrance as he walked to the ring draped in an American flag and to the tune of Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle's WWE theme song .
Covington channeled his inner villain and encouraged thunderous boos during his fight introduction. The brothers cheered him on and exhorted him to rally against Lawler in a furious first round. Covington smiled and pointed toward the brothers as he went back to his corner.
The fighters came out swinging and woke up a crowd that had a card heavy on submissions. Covington dominated from there, landing 162 significant strikes en route to his seventh straight win to slip his way into contention for a fight against welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Usman watched the fight from a suite and the fighters got into a testy exchange after the fight on the ESPN set.
Lawler — for professional, and yes, political reasons — was the clear fan favorite and heard chants of "Robbie! Robbie!" throughout the five rounds. The 37-year-old Lawler lost his third straight fight and fourth time in five fights overall and said he would talk to his family and coaches before deciding to fight again. Lawler's face was scratched up like he ran it through a cheese grater and a big Band-Aid was slapped near his left eye, a title shot out of the picture for the former UFC welterweight champ.
"It's been a while since I actually felt good moving around, bouncing around, take down defense was pretty good, getting back up was pretty good," Lawler said. "I just need to get back to work and build on those things."
New Jersey was one of the first states that embraced UFC, and White credits cards at the Trump Taj Mahal for helping the company grow into a heavyweight in the sports world. The organization moved up from casinos to holding UFC 32 in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and has held pay-per-views and other televised cards at the Prudential Center.
White has remained fiercely loyal to Trump through the years, and said he would never badmouth the president, "Ever, ever, ever ." White even stumped for Trump in a 2016 speech at the Republican national convention.
Covington is a fan of the Trump family and was invited to meet the president last August at the White House. Covington tweeted a photo of the meeting with the caption, "Pleasure to finally meet you Mr. President. Thank you for always putting America first!"
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports