Meet Tyron Woodley, the UFC's Most Hated Champion

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2017

Tyron Woodley speaks with the media during a news conference for UFC 209, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. Woodley is scheduled to fight Stephen Thompson in a welterweight championship fight Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Imagine a guy.

He is well-educated. Went to the University of Missouri, in fact.

He is articulate, a reflection of that education.

He has done well as a television personality—even as an actor.

He has a respectable social conscience.

He is a great athlete; he excelled as a college wrestler and a mixed martial artist and collected titles in the biggest promotions in the world.

Have an idea about that guy and what he is all about? Thinking he's probably likable, a man basking in positive vibes?

Think again. You have UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and people seem to hate him.

Going into his third title defense, Woodley is openly disdained in a way few other UFC champions are.

Michael Bisping isn't beloved, but there is an impishness to him that feels kind of tongue-in-cheek and softens the blow.

Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones are divisive, as is Conor McGregor, but none are as flatly and unanimously loathed by the fanbase as Woodley.

When you consider him objectively, it's puzzling. He seems like a guy people would get behind. It's only when you dig a little deeper that the dots connect more clearly.

Woodley earned a title shot as dubiously as one could imagine, forging a path to gold built on evasiveness and dispatching some of the most universally adored fighters in MMA along the way.

He beat Carlos Condit by TKO but only when Condit blew out his knee and could no longer continue.

He got to the cusp of a title fight after narrowly beating Kelvin Gastelum in a catchweight fight after Gastelum missed weight—no reflection on Woodley—and then spent 18 months inactive, waiting for a title shot.

When he came back, it was against champion Robbie Lawler. He was the most treasured champion in the sport at the time, a fanatically violent man who didn't know how not to be in a Fight of the Year during his welterweight tear from 2013 to 2016.

Woodley knocked him cold in two minutes. Not great for his image, and it only got worse from there.

Woodley took his title win as a chance to act as though he were calling the shots.

He demanded fights with Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre, Conor McGregor (two retirees and a guy fighting in another weight class) and others. He showed no regard for challengers waiting their turn—including Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, another figure fans have delighted in and one who had won seven straight bouts on the way to earning his shot.

Yet Woodley held fast in pursuit of his "money fight" and even took to lobbing insults at Thompson while refusing the contest. He eventually relented, but only when the pairing was placed on the lucrative UFC 205 card.

No one can blame him for wanting to get paid, but lots of people can fault him for how he went about it. It's hard to like a guy who delays or refuses fights, points fingers and restarts the whole process the minute he leaves the cage.

Most recently, the process restarted with Demian Maia, whom Woodley will battle Saturday at UFC 214. He showed little interest in Maia as an opponent, citing a desire to chase paydays instead.

Some felt the real concern was Maia, a jiu-jitsu specialist so advanced that the word "specialist" is almost insulting. He has a penchant for beating people badly and making them look even worse as he does.

With Woodley's tendency to fight with his back against the cage, he's tailor-made to fall victim to Maia's smothering mauling. And if he did, he would lose whatever leverage he had in navigating the MMA landscape or negotiating with the UFC.

So, in fact, it's easy to see why people seem to hate Woodley so much. He's done a lot of irritating things to overshadow the many positives he offers, and he's always quick to take his stance and go in hard on anyone who isn't standing with him.

It's paradoxical: The harder he goes in, the more people hate on him. 

You don't need to tell Woodley, though; he's been hearing it for years, and it looks like it's going to be around for as long as he's champion.

       

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder.