As soon as Tyron Woodley captured welterweight gold with a first-round knockout of Robbie Lawler last July at UFC 201, he set his sights on a few potentially lucrative “money fights.”
“I technically just beat the best welterweight in the world. It wasn’t a guy out of his prime. These guys are legends. Nick Diaz is a top 5 welterweight of all time in my eyes. Georges St. Pierre is the No. 1 welterweight in my eyes,” said Woodley, who also rebuffed then No. 1 contender Stephen Thompson in a post-fight interview on Fox Sports 1. “If I’m an athlete in this division and I want to say I’m the best in the world, I feel like I should compete against those guys. I don’t feel any obligation to go by the rankings. I want to go out there and I want to fight the money fights.”
Of course, Woodley didn’t get his wish. Instead, he battled Thompson to an entertaining draw in his first title defense at UFC 205 before edging “Wonderboy” via majority decision in their rematch at UFC 208. In the meantime, Demian Maia continued to rack up victories at 170 pounds until he could no longer be denied. After a split verdict over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211, his seventh consecutive triumph, Maia was granted the next title shot by UFC President Dana White. Now, Maia and Woodley will square off at UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday night.
Woodley, meanwhile, disputes the notion that he was avoiding a showdown with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace.
“I was always open to this fight,” Woodley said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s not like he won seven fights in a row and he came by surprise, like I didn’t know he was coming up. It was 100 percent factual that I was interested in fighting him.”
Thanks to his grappling acumen, Maia presents a challenge unlike any Woodley has faced during his UFC tenure. The 39-year-old is able to dominate opponents almost exclusively through his jiu-jitsu, a rare occurrence in the modern era of the well-rounded mixed martial artist. That made for some less-than-enjoyable training sessions, Woodley admits, but the preparation was ultimately for the best.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say I enjoyed someone jumping on my back and constantly defending shots, but that’s what you do,” Woodley said. “It makes me a better martial artist because had I not been presented an opportunity to compete against him, I [wouldn’t have] dug deep into the jiu-jitsu background, learned how to defend, learned how to get ready for all these positions….In hindsight, it made me a better martial artist.”
The intriguing welterweight championship tilt has been largely overshadowed by the Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones rematch, which headlines UFC 214 and has dominated headlines. That’s just fine with Woodley. The last time he appeared on a card of similar magnitude at UFC 205, he and Thompson put on a “Fight of the Year” candidate.
“Everybody has their time of the season. I’ve been [known] to put on the best damn shows when I’ m on big cards,” Woodley said. “If you look at the history of me fighting, whenever it’s a huge fight card and the attention’s on the main event, I always find a way to steal the show. I plan on going out there, putting on a great performance, getting rid of Demian Maia in record breaking time and getting back and watching the main event.”