Tyron Woodley burst onto the UFC scene with a brutal knockout victory over Jay Hieron at UFC 156, catapulting him up the welterweight ranks.
The knockout was so impressive, the UFC deemed him worthy of a fight against former Strikeforce middleweight champion and former UFC welterweight top contender Jake Shields at UFC 161. Further adding to the hype train, Woodley entered the cage on Saturday night in Winnipeg as the favorite.
However, he exited the Octagon as a disappointment.
Woodley appeared to be concerned about Shields' takedowns for the majority of the fight, resulting in an unaggressive game plan. At times, he appeared almost apathetic, throwing strikes sporadically while absorbing a fair share of kicks from the underdog.
Still, as poorly as Woodley performed—which had more to do with failing to live up to the post-UFC 156 hype than anything else—he nearly walked away with the win, as one of the judges scored all three rounds for him.
For the record, he landed far more significant strikes than Shields. The other two judges did not agree with the first, however, giving Shields the 29-28 win on both scorecards.
Here's what we learned from the final preliminary card contest of UFC 161.
What We Learned About Jake Shields
Neither Shields nor Woodley were in the Top 10 of the official UFC welterweight rankings heading into their matchup, and even with the victory, Shields is still probably on the outside looking in.
But he answered some questions by earning the victory and avoiding a knockout against the powerful Woodley.
Shields' chin has been in question since Dan Henderson battered him when they met in Strikeforce, although Shields went on to win the fight. When Jake Ellenberger put him out with strikes at UFC Fight Night 25, concerns about his chin became all the more real.
After surviving for 15 minutes against a powerful welterweight, those concerns can be put to rest. Shields displayed good striking defense while using kicks to keep Woodley at a safe distance.
However, we also learned that Shields will need to improve his striking game further if he wants his wrestling to be effective. He attempted many takedowns against Woodley but couldn't earn a single one. If he wants to break into the Top 10, he will need to get his grappling game back on point. Better striking would help him in that regard.
What We Learned About Tyron Woodley
Woodley's knockout win over Hieron was one of the more brutal knockouts you'll ever see, and it built a hype that he apparently was not ready to embody.
We know that Woodley has power, but on Saturday we learned that he needs to find a way to set up those fight-ending shots. Far too often, he was late on his counters, and when he decided to engage, Shields was able to avoid the brunt of the force or the strikes altogether.
If there is a silver lining, the fight was close, and Woodley proved that his takedown defense is more than enough to keep a fight on the feet. The question is whether or not he can improve his striking technique to complement his power.
Of course, just 13 fights into his MMA career, Woodley's relative inexperience affected him against a veteran. Woodley needs a bit more time and a few more fights before we can call him a contender. But make no mistake: He should climb into the rankings within the next year or two.
What's Next For Shields?
Shields' next fight will be another big step on his quest back to welterweight contention. A fight against the final Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine makes sense, as does a fight against welterweight prospect Erick Silva.
What's Next for Woodley?
Even with a loss on Saturday, Woodley remains a frightening welterweight, and a matchup with an equally frightening opponent makes sense for him. Robbie Lawler and Siyar Bahadurzada are scheduled to meet in July. The loser of that fight would be a prime opponent for Woodley.
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