Tyron Woodley has a chance to notch one of the biggest victories of his career, but he will win a different battle if he gets the W at UFC 209.
“The Chosen One” Tyron Woodley has spent the last several months trying to usher in a movement. He dispatched the focal point of several of the UFC’s future plans in knocking out Robbie Lawler to win the title last year, and his pursuit of bigger fights since then have been unsuccessful.
Lawler was supposed to be the leading man at welterweight, potentially facing former king Georges St-Pierre in his return and fueling discussions of other marquee bouts this year. Woodley took him completely out of the conversation with one crushing right hand and found himself as an unlikely focal point in the stacked welterweight division.
He’s been a great performer since arriving in the UFC, going 6-2. However, he entered following a devastating knockout loss to Nate Marquardt and stumbled in with severely unimpressive performances to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. When looking at the streaking fighters at the top of the division, Woodley was simply not the name pegged as the top welterweight in the division.
At 34-years-old, Woodley is aware that he is in the sweet spot of his career. He is an experienced, well-rounded veteran who still possesses an incredible amount of explosive athleticism. He is self-aware of this fact and calls for high-profile fights every opportunity he gets on the microphone. Thompson was the clear number one contender, but Woodley blatantly told him he was more interested in fights with Nick Diaz and St-Pierre rather than granting him a shot at the belt.
As it would turn out, the UFC’s plans went forward and Woodley would face Thompson in one of the most technical battles of 2016. The two went back and forth, and Woodley brilliantly stifled the striking of “Wonderboy” and had the most dramatic moments of the fight in dropping the challenger multiple times. Despite the defense of Woodley, Thompson did enough to outpoint the champion in several rounds.
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The result was an anticlimactic draw that left the welterweight division in a jam. Contenders like Demian Maia are waiting in the wings but the division finds itself now being held up another several months as Woodley and Thompson sort things out.
Woodley has also made another issue the topic of conversation: race. The champion has been very vocal in stating that he feels he has not been given the same treatment as the other white UFC champions and that race has a large part to do with his popularity. He certainly isn’t wrong in saying he hasn’t been slighted in terms of promotion. But, his serious argument could lose a lot of steam if he doesn’t get his hand raised on Saturday.
For “The Chosen One,” there are no more marquee fights without a victory, and the added attention on his statements that go along with them. That starts with dispatching “Wonderboy” in the main event on Saturday night.
After the first fight, it’s easy to assume that Thompson would be the one to benefit more from having seen Woodley’s strategy. However, the fact that the champion nearly finished the challenger in his first fight should actually give him more confidence in opening up more in the rematch. Thompson outscored Woodley for stretches during their first encounter, but the champion should look to create even more of the exchanges where he was able to close the distance.
The division is not as stacked with contenders as in recent years, but that does not change the fact that holding a world title is one of the biggest bargaining tools in the latest era of the UFC. Whether bouts with Michael Bisping or GSP eventually come to pass will be dependent on whether Woodley can improve on what was considered one of the best fights of the year. At a time when the organization is in flux and the opportunity for blockbuster match-ups is at an all-time high, “The Chosen One” could set one up in dynamic fashion on Saturday.