DALLAS, TEXAS—Tyron Woodley came to this city nearly a week ago with a heavy, searing-hot chip on one shoulder. He left with the UFC welterweight championship firmly planted on the other.
Woodley defeated Darren Till at the main event at UFC 228, ending the fight via submission in the second round.
The 36-year-old has long felt disrespected by the UFC and its management. He feels they do not appreciate or even recognize the talent they have sitting atop the 170-pound division. He has been mocked and dismissed by UFC president Dana White, a man who seemingly decides at random which of his UFC titleholders will receive his public protection and which are fair game for his scorn. Woodley has gone on record with his belief that at least part of his perceived poor treatment is due to racism. White has responded (poorly) in kind.
Woodley also feels disrespected by the fans, who booed him vociferously upon his entrance at Friday’s weigh-ins at the American Airlines Center downtown. He feels disrespected by oddsmakers and gamblers who have–for three out of his last four title defenses–declared Woodley to be an underdog to his current challenger. He believes he is the greatest welterweight of all time. This is not true, of course; Georges St-Pierre still grips that spot with an iron fist.
None of this is a secret, though. None of these feelings are new. Woodley has been a vocal proponent of his own career for years, and often finds himself standing at odds with the UFC when he’s simply standing up for himself. But this time, Woodley walked around this city all week consumed with glowering anger dangerously close to spilling over into full-on rage.
“He seems angry, more angry than usual,” UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier told Bleacher Report on Friday night. “And not a normal kind of angry. He’s angry. I wonder how that’s going to affect him.”
Anger can be a supportive co-pilot for a mixed martial artist when channeled properly. Some athletes compete better when they can barely contain their rage. It gives them focus. Some, like legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, are devoid of all emotion.
For much of his career, Woodley was more like Emelianenko. When he stepped in the cage, his face was unreadable. No matter the situation he found himself in, his expression never changed. He was risk-averse. He considered himself a professional athlete more than a professional fighter. If the fans didn’t like it, if the promoter didn’t like it, well, that was too bad.
This was his job, and he was there to do it successfully and move on.
Saturday night in Dallas? It was different. Woodley carried his anger into the cage. And that was bad news for Till, the monstrous and previously undefeated title challenger from Liverpool who drew unfair comparisons to Conor McGregor largely based on his striking ability.
Woodley came out of the chute fast and aggressive in the first round before settling back and conserving energy. He used that energy in the second round to drop Till to the canvas with a right hand and batter him with punches and elbows before finally sinking in a D’Arce choke to retain his title. When Till tapped, Woodley calmly stood to his feet, the anger gone from his face. He’d done his job. He’d proven his point.
History has shown that that Woodley likely will not become a fan favorite, which is both unfortunate and just a little bit offensive. Regardless of his place in welterweight history, he’s the kind of athlete mixed martial arts fans should be proud to call their own. But MMA fans are unique, in their own strange and head-scratching way. It’s impossible to figure out who they’ll latch onto. Woodley’s greatness (and yes, we’re approaching actual greatness now) is one of those things that will be appreciated not during this time, but likely after he’s gone.
And unfortunate as that is, there’s nothing he can do about it. But Saturday night showed that maybe, at least every once in awhile, it’s okay for Woodley to let that chip on his shoulder act as fuel for the fight. As we’ve seen, it might just be the thing that helps him keep the world championship strung over his over shoulder.