“This one is for the people of Brazil”: Why did so many Brazilians cheer and thank Nigerian UFC fighter Kamaru Usman after beating American Colby Covington?
By Marques Travae
This is what can be cool about social networks. I don’t much time to live on the networks as some people seem to do, but even just checking in from time to time and I discover things I would have probably not known about without it. This has been the case too many times than I can remember. Just last week, when I saw a meme of the new Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi with her foot on the face of popular Brazilian TV host Silvio Santos, I didn’t know what it meant, but I would soon find out.
Well, we’re in a new week, and again social networks filled me on something I hadn’t heard. The origin of this story was a few nights ago when I started reading several Brazilians sending thanks to Nigerian UFC fighter Kamaru Usman. As I don’t follow the UFC, I wondered, “Why are folks thanking Usman?”. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. And just like the story last week, the next day I found out what all the fuss was about.
As it turns out, on Saturday, in Las Vegas, Usman defeated opponent Colby Covington by TKO in the fifth round of their bout. The fight was the main event of the night and was highly anticipated among UFC fans. Usman not only beat Covington, but as it turned, he also left a number of visible bruises on his face as well as breaking his jaw.
But that was just the actual fight inside the octagon. The reason why Brazilians were cheering and thanking Usman went beyond sport and went into the realm of politics and nationality. You see, the (white) American fighter had gained a reputation as quite a disrespectful loudmouth for the things he’s said against opponents, fans, immigrants and people from other countries. In a São Paulo fight in October of 2017, not only did he beat Brazilian Demian Maia, he also directed insults at Brazil and the Brazilian people. At the time, Covington said, “Brazil, you are a pigsty. You are all filthy animals.”
Covington also provoked Usman, saying that he wasn’t the real champion, and that it was he was the champ. His taunts and trash talk would lead to his invading events and disrupting the champ’s promotions. But then was made this fight more than just a sporting event was Covington’s admiration for US President, Donald Trump, a man who many see as an anti-immigrant, racist, sexist demagogue. Covington has been seen proudly wearing the infamous MAGA (Make America Great Again) caps, the slogan of which was popularized by Trump during his election campaign.
In general, many African-Americans see people wearing this cap as a supporter of a racist, conservative America in much the same way that they view the Confederate flag and a KKK hood. In January of this year, in a now exposed fraudulent assault claim, actor Jussie Smollett fabricated having been attacked by two white assailants on one frigid Chicago night. To seal the story as a racist attack, Smollett claimed that his attackers wore MAGA caps, knowing what this symbol meant to many African-Americans.
But Covington’s allegiance to Trump-led America goes beyond his wearing a MAGA cap.
In August 2018, after becoming UFC middleweight champion by defeating Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos, he went to the White House to take the belt to Trump, proclaiming:
“I told everybody I was going to make the welterweight division great again, and now I’m going to celebrate how a real American should celebrate winning a world a title, and that’s going to the White House to see Mr. Donald Trump and put this on his desk, unlike the Filth-a-delphia Eagles disrespecting our flag and kneeling for the national anthem.”
Covington referred to Trump’s banning the Super Bowl champion from visiting the White House, as winning teams of major sports championships usually do. In 2017, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors declined an invitation to the White House. Some members of the Eagles team had participated in kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem to protest America’s treatment of African-Americans, many of whom had been killed by US police. The act as a symbol of protest is associated with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to take a knee caught on with a number of players throughout the American football league.
Needless to say, sport and politics go way back. Whether it was 1972 US/Soviet Union Olympic basketball game, boxer Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam War, or Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s “Black Power” fist salute at the 1968 Olympics, the words and actions of athletes as political statements often outweigh performances in their respective sports.
Usman’s thrashing of Covington was no different. Before the start of the fight, Usman said:
“This fight is greater than just a guy who is talking sh*t. This fight means a lot to me. So, when I get the chance to put my hands on this guy, just know that it’s the wrath of every immigrant in this country that I’m going to put on him.”
In this particular comment, Usman obviously speaks to the anti-immigrant stances of Trump, who has vowed to construct a wall to stop immigrants from entering the US illegally. It also speaks to ideologies of many white Americans, who, in support of Trump and his MAGA slogan, also support the idea that the United States is a country in which only white Americans should reside. Actions and comments I’ve seen since Trump took office is clear evidence of this perspective.
But Usman’s victory also represented Brazilians, many of whom took offense to Covington’s labeling the country as not only a “pigsty” but also a “dump” populated by “filthy animals”. Perhaps seeing himself as “avenging” Brazil, Usman also addressed this issue after his victory.
“This one’s for the world. This one is for the people of Brazil. This one is for my former manager. This one is for my family. This one’s for my manager, and my recent manager. This one is for everybody.”
His family, in this case, not only include the people of Nigeria, but also his Brazilian wife, Eleslie, a native of the southern city of Curitiba, and his daughter with her, Samirah.
In retrospect of why this fight goes beyond sport, I think of a conversation I had with a white, American colleague last year over sports and politics. In his view, protests, social and political issues have no place in sport. Specifically speaking on the whole Kaepernick controversy, he opined that ‘taking a knee’ was ruining the game and that politics shouldn’t enter the field.
The problem that I have with this thinking is the privilege and penalties that we all carry day in and day out. In just so happens that most of those penalties are shouldered by black players, as such, it’s fitting that a white American probably wouldn’t see that. From baseball’s ban on black players before the late 1940s and an under-representation of black quarterbacks in the NFL in the US, to the banning of black players in Brazil’s major futebol (soccer) teams and a continued invisibility of black Brazilian head coaches, the stakes for accepting or rejecting political actions in sports are clearly divided along lines of race just as other areas of society are.
But I do wonder if said colleague would have held this same position in the American and National baseball leagues of the early 1900s when players were treated as property, had little/no say in their contracts, salaries and futures. Sometimes these players attempted to go on strike to earn more rights for professional players. In those days, speaking out against injustices committed against colleagues could subject a player to unemployment and attempted strikes often did no good. I would think my colleague would probably see that situation a little different. But then, those players were white.
Translations of comments made by Brazilians on the UFC fight
Carol – Thank you so much for representing our Brazil Kamaru… you were great…
Jorge – Tasteful beating. Many out there deserved one too. But the warrior washed our souls
Edmário – In Brasília, a Kamaru Usman is needed. Urgent! And happy 2020!
Lurdes – You are a warrior, Kamaru, who represented our country!!! You deserve our applause!
Murilo – Thank you Kamaru Usman, Brazil had this one for you! If only our politicians had attitudes in defense of the people as you had
Lucia – I cried with emotion, what a beautiful thing. Congratulations warrior… And thank you for having honored our country! Too bad you were very good, you didn’t want to drown him, the blood he had
Humberto – Vc Kamaru, thank you very much for your representativeness…. You’ve already done more for Brazil than our president!
Priscilla – Kamaru I don’t even know you but I love you
Edna – Thank you, Mr. Usman, you have my respect! I don’t like fighting, nor did I know about this individual you knocked out, but since it’s your choice, I wish you many victories!
Pedro – The guy arrived at the hospital and the doctor asked: what happened? The guy answers: I was run over by a black Kamaru.
Kacco – If it were on a weekday, only on devices…it would have been much better….maybe in deep sleep he would reflect better what he said.
Carol – I got the chills! Thank you Kamaru!
Eloisa – Thank you for REPRESENTING
Maria – Thanks Komoru! Now he’ll think more before he opens his mouth.
Auxiliadora – KAMARU. you have my respect, congratulations.
Carla – Congratulations you washed the soul.