By the time Tyron Woodley steps into the Octagon to face Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 201 on July 30, it will have been 546 days since his last promotional appearance.
Since Woodley garnered a split-decision against an overweight Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 182 in January 2015, Lawler has defended his title in a pair of “Fight of the Year” candidates, Stephen Thompson has emerged as a serious contender in the division, Demian Maia is on a roll again and Neil Magny has solidified himself as a Top 10 talent by going 5-1. So in short, a lot has happened since “The Chosen One” last showcased his talent in the cage.
The extended absence wasn’t entirely Woodley’s fault: He was slated to face Johny Hendricks at UFC 192 this past October, but that matchup was canceled when “Bigg Rigg” was hospitalized due to weight-cutting issues. Sometime shortly thereafter, it was reported that Woodley would receive the next 170-pound title shot for his troubles. Eventually that promise came true -- it just took a little longer than some people might have liked.
Woodley would like to point out that it is a popular misconception that he turned down other potential opponents in the interim.
“I was not offered other bouts. It’s tough to put that to bed because everyone doesn’t listen to the same broadcast at the same time. Even if they listen they have their own mindset,” Woodley said during a recent appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “Our fans are so entitled and so all-knowing that I was waiting around, whether I admitted it or not. [According to them] I was being an overly-entitled pouty fighter that said, ‘I’m not fighting unless you give me a world title shot.’That’s not what happened, people.
“I was never offered the rebooking of Johny Hendricks. The reason I wasn’t offered is because [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva assumed and miscommunicated the fact that he thought I was waiting. I never knew it was an option for a fighter to wait in the UFC. We got those things figured out, we got it ironed out. I was not sitting on the shelf waiting for my time to shine. As a fighter you need to grow and the only way to grow is putting what you’ve done in camp into the actual real life Octagon.”
While Woodley previously said that money wouldn’t be an issue if he decided to wait out the opportunity that was promised to him last year, the Strikeforce veteran now admits that fighting remains his most lucrative endeavor. That’s why he wouldn’t have been opposed to facing someone else other than Lawler in the past year and a half. Of course, now that his chance has arrived, Woodley isn’t giving it back, either.
“I can do as many appearances and analyst deals as I want, I’m never going to make the amount I make going into the Octagon,” he said. “It is a huge misconception [that I was waiting], and I’ve just told myself I’m not going to try to continue to refute that. I won’t apologize for fighting for a title because you guys won’t apologize to me after I’m the world champion.”
While he hasn’t been particularly active of late, Woodley still enters UFC 201 with plenty of positive momentum. The American Top Team Evolution product has won four of his last five fights, including a second-round stoppage of Carlos Condit, who took Lawler to the brink of defeat at the beginning of the year. Perhaps more importantly, Woodley says the time off has allowed him to evolve as a fighter, something he couldn’t do as much during the constant grind of fight camps and events.
“I think the most important thing...is that I’m still evolving. There are several guys in the top 10 that are not evolving. Robbie Lawler is the best fighter he’ll ever be...There’s other fighters on the roster that are at their peak,” Woodley said. “They’re good, they’re great to watch, but Carlos Condit is not going to become this amazing wrestler. He’s not gonna become this super explosive power puncher. He is what he is and it’s great, but I’m a fighter that has several different departments of his game that can increase. It’s what you do within that timeframe that decides how you look if you’ve been off for a while.
“Obviously me working with UFC on Fox [as an analyst] has helped me because I’ve been almost paid to know my opponents so well ,to break down film. In doing that I’m becoming a student as well. Also I’ve had a chance to actually grow, for the first time in a long time, in between fights. It was just: Training camp. Fight. Rest. Training camp. Fight. Rest. This time around it’s been growth in every department...So I’m gonna be a more refined opponent and it’s gonna be harder to scout me because the things I’ve been working on have not been seen.”