Ron DeSantis campaign promotes Miami event with UFC fighter now facing felony battery charges

DeSantis Masvidal mug shot
The attack in question occurred a short drive from where the campaign is holding the event.

UFC star Jorge Masvidal is facing legal issues after an alleged Monday night attack in Miami Beach, but that isn’t stopping Gov. Ron DeSantis from promoting the fighter as his co-host at an upcoming campaign stop.

DeSantis’ campaign emailed invitations Wednesday for a March 30 appearance at a to-be-disclosed location in Miami, just days after the incident. Masvidal was originally named in a police report as the lone suspect in an altercation labeled as a “felony battery.” On Wednesday night, following the promotional blast, Masvidal was taken into custody on charges of aggravated battery, “great bodily harm” and criminal mischief, both considered felonies, according to an arrest report MBPD posted online.

Florida Politics contacted DeSantis’ campaign Wednesday for clarification about whether the event would still go on as scheduled but did not receive a response by press time. By noon Thursday, following the announcement of formal charges, the Governor’s campaign still had not replied.

A graphic accompanying the event invitation shows Masvidal and DeSantis in a mockup of a fight poster. Below it: “Fighting to keep Florida free.”

The event’s announcement came less than 48 hours after TMZ Sports released video showing the immediate aftermath of an alleged altercation between Masvidal and rival UFC fighter Colby Covington outside of Papi Steak, a popular Miami Beach restaurant.

If convicted of the aggravated battery charge alone, a second-degree felony, Masvidal could face up to 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. It has yet to be confirmed whether Covington will press charges, though that may not necessarily determine whether prosecutors pursue a case against Masvidal.

Eyewitnesses told police a masked and hooded Masvidal ran up to Covington, who is not named in reports in accordance with “Marsy’s Law” protections, and sucker-punched him twice, once to the eye and once to the mouth.  The attack fractured Covington’s tooth.

Despite Masvidal’s disguise, police said Covington “immediately recognized … Masvidal’s voice and upper half of his face which included his long curly hair which was sticking out of the hoodie.”

The arrest report said “three to four other males” also approached Covington “in an aggressive manner” before Covington “attempted to create distance between him and the attackers by pushing off one of the males and (reentering) Papi Steak to avoid further injury.”

Upon Masvidal’s surrender, police photographed injuries to his right hand and knuckles “where he had stitches that occurred prior to police contact.”

Masvidal was booked into Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center at 10:27 p.m. He was later released on $15,000 bond.

A witness said they heard Masvidal tell Covington, “You shouldn’t have been talking about my kids,” likely referring to numerous assertions Covington made about Masvidal’s family in the lead up to their March 5 pay-per-view fight. Covington won that bout by lopsided, unanimous decision.

On Tuesday morning, Masvidal alluded to the attack on Twitter by writing, “Good morning to everyone except those that think talking about someone’s kids is cool.”

In a since-deleted video posted to Twitter in which he tagged Covington, Masvidal appeared to address the attack.

“Calling this the show-your-face challenge,” he said. “What’s up? I’m from Dade County. You talk that sh*t, you’ve got to back it up. That’s how my city rolls, man.”

Masvidal’s managers, Malki Kawa and Ibrahim Kawa, also referenced the incident.

Clips of a five-year-old interview Masvidal gave The MMA Hour’s Ariel Helwani have since resurfaced. In them, Masvidal describes himself as being known on the streets of Miami-Dade County as having “one of the best sucker-punches in the business.”

Masvidal and Covington were once close friends, roommates and training partners at American Top Team, a mixed martial arts (MMA) academy in Coconut Creek. Their relationship soured in recent years after Covington adopted a confrontational, disparaging public persona to boost his fighting career.

The Monday night clash on Miami Beach wasn’t the first time a fellow UFC fighter targeted Covington on the street. In November 2017, former heavyweight champion Fabrício Werdum confronted Covington in Sydney, Australia, for allegedly calling Werdum a “filthy Brazilian” and other comments disparaging Werdum’s home country. Werdum followed Covington outside their hotel and hurled a boomerang at him. A passerby caught the incident on camera.

Covington, who briefly held the UFC interim welterweight title in 2018, officially parted ways with American Top Team in May 2020. By then, he and Masvidal had become bitter enemies. The UFC used that animosity to promote a pay-per-view event the two headlined March 5. It was a rare fight card in which the top-billed bout was a non-title fight.

Masvidal and Covington have both voiced support and campaigned for former President Donald Trump, with the latter accepting an invitation to the White House.

Masvidal has also repeatedly backed DeSantis, applauding his stance against some pandemic safety measures on social media.

In June 2020, amid the first wave of COVID-19, Masvidal took to Twitter to thank the Governor “for being so damn good” at his job and reopening the state.

Two months later, he posted a fake news report on Instagram stating Tony Montana, the fictional character of Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” was found dead with “29 Other Corpses, Two Tons of Cocaine” and a “Fully Auto AR-15,” which led authorities to “Determine Deaths Caused by: Covid-19.”

Masvidal wrote: “We know it’s not your fault Governor Desantis. I’m so glad you see past the bs.”

In April 2021, DeSantis promoted a UFC event Masvidal headlined against welterweight champ Kamaru Usman in Jacksonville. Masvidal lost the fight by second-round knockout.

It is possible DeSantis’ campaign had pre-scheduled postage of the invitations for the March 30 event and failed to cancel the action after the Monday altercation. This piece will be updated if the Governor’s campaign team responds.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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