Coming off a huge first-round KO win over Jay Hieron, welterweight fighter Tyron Woodley made his entrance into the UFC a meaningful one. One of a number of 170-lb fighters coming from Strikeforce, Woodley’s victory announced his presence as a potential title contender in the division. He is now slated to face former Strikeforce and Elite XC champion, Jake Shields, at UFC 161 on June 21. Tyron spoke with BJPenn.com Radio Wednesday night to talk about the welterweight division and his entrance to the UFC.
The knockout win against Hieron was relatively unexpected for the two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who had gained a reputation as a takedown artist. He credits the win to his coaches and a strong belief in his growing abilities.
“I just remember my coaches. Danny… is an amazing coach, really incorporates a lot of speed and power drills where I’m confident, I’m moving forward fast, and my hands are heavy. I really, truly believe that I’m probably in the top three in the welterweight division in punching power. Wrestling is just my insurance. Guys like Jake Ellenberger, guys like Johnny Hendricks, guys like myself: I think I really possess similar to, if not more, power than some of those guys. You put that with good wrestling, good technique, good motion, good angles, you present a lot of problems for a lot of guys. I really wanted to showcase that for the UFC. I wanted to basically start a different, you know, a fresh breath. This is my UFC debut, I want to let everybody know, put them on notice and make a big statement- not only to everyone, but make a statement to myself. I’ve been sitting on my gifts. I didn’t just learn how to strike. I didn’t just learn how to be explosive. These are things people have put a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hours being with me, teaching me, helping me, believing in me. I just had to believe in myself. That’s what’s happening. That’s the new me, and that’s what you’re going to see every fight.”
Woodley reflected more on his transition as a fighter in the public eye. He explained, “Even in defeat, man, it’s funny how people perceive you. I started my career pretty quickly, I had five fights in a year, all by finish. I had a couple decisions, a couple close fights. I went from a submission artist to a boring wrestler to someone who got into a crazy brawl with Nate Marquardt. Even in defeat, I showed people that I’m tough, I can take it, I can dish it, I can stand in the pocket. I ended up on the short end of the stick, but I still showed people that I’m not a one-dimensional fighter. I’m a complete package. I think that, by knocking him out… I’ve seen that dang video of me getting knocked out so many damn times; but right after I knocked out Jay Hieron, you’re really only as good as your last outing. I got to keep making my last outing be better than the one before… because that’s what people really remember you by. That’s how you get the next big fight.”
For his upcoming fight against Shields, Woodley is focused on conditioning as one of the keys to victory. Training out of Florida with American Top Team, Woodley has gone back to his roots to focus on wrestling and groundwork.
“Being in wrestling shape is different,” he described. “I kind of missed being in that wrestling shape, because that’s the best conditioning ever. This is going to be very similar to a wrestling match; me doing mostly counter offense and defense, and I still got to have enough steam to try and knock his head off after I stop his shots, after I scramble, after I get back up to my feet, after I get off the cage, after I circle. I got to have enough steam, enough stamina, enough power to finish the deal even if it’s late in the third.”
Tyron Woodley is one of many fighters to win his UFC debut emphatically. For Woodley, it serves as vindication of sorts to the caliber of fighters in an organization many UFC fans saw as sub-par.
“Man, the Strikeforce fighters are representing. I’m so excited. I feel sometimes I got to reserve myself, I’m almost like a cheerleader. It’s good to see Pat Healey get a big win when he’s been sitting for a year and a half and promised shot after shot. And he pulls up- on paper, that’s not even a good match up for him with Jim Miller- but he found a way to grind him out. Or Cormier coming out with a win, or Josh Thomson stopping Nate Diaz who has never been finished. All these guys are showing that we ain’t no second-rate organization. We’re hungry. All of our fight shows were off the chain. That’s why UFC wanted to buy Strikeforce, because in 2010 we had the best year out of any promotion including them, as far as fight shows. That’s when the UFC had a ton of injuries, a ton of people falling out… but [Strikeforce] shows had knockout after knockout, submissions, Dan Henderson and Fedor, we had the best heavyweight division.”
Entering the UFC now, though, Woodley is very optimistic: not only for the chance to face a wider variety of fighters, but for the promotion’s much larger marketing abilities.
“The UFC, they understand how to market. They see star power in me, and they know how to market each individual fighter differently. I think that was the missing thing in Strikeforce. They didn’t really have the funds to market everybody. They only market their, quote unquote, ‘franchise guys,’ or mostly the heavyweights, but people who sold a lot of tickets. The UFC understands, this kid’s got something: he’s well-spoken, his physique looks the part, he goes out there and fights his butt off, he’s an exciting fighter, and he’s going to be a problem for Georges St. Pierre and all these other welterweights just because of his wrestling pedigree and his punching power. I think those things, you’re going to see over the next year I’m going to be looked at really differently, and I’m going to be close to that title.”
Having yet to break into the UFC’s top ten welterweight contenders, Woodley’s upcoming fight with Jake Shields has the potential to put him in the mix with some of the divisions rising stars. Ask Tyron where he sits in the division, on the other hand, and he’ll say that he is sitting just fine.
“It’s really good, not just to be in the UFC. Obviously I would have loved to come over as champ, it would probably change the story, but really, to be honest, no matter what the rankings say, I’m in a better position than Nate Marquardt and Tarec Saffiedine. When they wanted somebody to replace [Johnny Hendricks] and fight [Carlos] Condit, I was one of the top people pushing for that fight. Well Tarec didn’t want the fight, he didn’t take the fight. He turned it down. Where Nate Marquardt, he beat me in dominant fashion, he came out and wanted it more that night. He’s lost two losses in a row. So I’m sitting in a better position right now than both of them… If I go through Jake Shields in dominant fashion, I’m probably one fight away from a title shot. And I realize that, and that’s why I’m taking this fight very seriously.”
One fight that could potentially lie in Woodley’s future is a match with Nick Diaz. Talks of this fight were large when Diaz still held the Strikeforce welterweight title, but Diaz left to fight in the UFC against Georges St. Pierre. For Woodley, Diaz’s decision was less of an escape than it was jumping at an opportunity.
“These guys think I want to fight them, they don’t want to talk to me, they look at me and go in the other direction- it’s nothing against these guys. I respect Nick Diaz, I respect Jake Shields. I’m actually a fan of these guys and what they bring to the table and what they’ve done for the sport. So there’s no disrespect involved, but some people are just bad match-ups… When we get in that cage June 15, it’s going to be a whole different story than what he’s planning for and what he’s looking on video, because I’m still getting better. Those guys: that’s as good as Jake’s ever gonna be. Look at his last ten fights and tell me the difference. Nothing! He’s the best he’s ever gonna be. He could go to Thailand and live there and train 24 hours a day, and he’s still gonna be pretty similar to where he’s at. For me, I’m young enough in the sport where you’re going to see things get better each and every fight. I think those are blessings in disguise. When I see Jake on the 15, when I see Nick Diaz down the road, I think those fights are going to go in my favor.”
On the subject of potential fights, Tyron also talked about a potential fight with current welterweight champion and pound-for-pound great, Georges St. Pierre.
“I think GSP has done so much for the sport,” said Woodley. “He hasn’t just beat random guys; they didn’t build GSP up. GSP fought the top guys when they were at the top. He fought Matt Hughes when Matt Hughes was on the top. He fought Matt Serra when Matt Serra was at the peak of his career. Everybody he’s fought- Fitch- basically he destroyed all these welterweights. So in my mind- and my prayers- he don’t get bored with this, that he don’t get a case of Captain America and want to leave the sport, that he don’t want to hang it up while he’s ahead, because you can’t honestly say you’re number one if you’ve never measured yourself against number one. He’s number one! We can say, we can speculate, it’s all about perspective. I could say I’m the number one, I’m the top welterweight; but he’s the top welterweight, he’s number one in the world. He’s proved it time and time again. For me, it’s an honor and history for me to have an opportunity to measure myself against him and get a chance to fight him.
“I’ve been mentally trying to puzzle [him] through. The thing about GSP, he’s a gamer, and he’s an adapter. You watch [Floyd] Mayweather fight, he adapts in every fight. I think GSP is similar to that. So I can watch the way he fought Nick Diaz. If he was fighting me the way he fought Nick Diaz, I believe I would have come out on top of that fight. If would have fought me like he fought Jake Shields, I believe I would have won that fight. But what if he fights me like he fought Dan Hardy or Carlos Condit? So you really don’t know what GSP you’re going to get. I think his game plan is basically slated to win. Each fighter, each person he fights, he fights and attacks it different. Sometimes he might go to the cage where he gets scrutinized for getting decisions, over utilization of his jab, you know, just in and out and take him down… But if you’re not a wrestler, if you’re not on the delivering end of those takedowns, you don’t know how tired your body gets. Sometimes I don’t take people down because I don’t want to go through all that scrambling: people trying to stop you, then you get on top, they grabbing your gloves, pulling your head down, and then you get freaking scrutinized for not being able to create space to land some damaging blows. You might land one or two punches, then the guy grabs your head. It’s not 1999 or 1995 where if you mounted somebody, or if you got the guard, the fight was over with. It’s not those days anymore. People are really respecting this craft and are really well-rounded. I think GSP, if he wanted to walk away from the game right now, no one could say anything. He was a legend, he’ll be in the history books, and I think that he’s done what he needs to do. I just hope that I can get through Jake Shields in dominant fashion, keep the buzz going on myself, and then fighting one of those top 5 guys, and then I’ll be right in the picture. If I can get that done in the next 6-8 months, I think I can make a good claim why me and him should fight.”
Tyron talked briefly of the potential superfight between GSP and Anderson Silva. The fight has been discussed for quite some time, but little has been done to make it come to fruition. For Woodley, the fight ultimately lies in the hands of Georges St. Pierre.
“He don’t have to fight Anderson Silva. Why? He’s a welterweight. It depends on what he’s doing it for. If he wants to basically be considered the greatest of all pound-for-pound, and he says, ‘You know, they say Anderson is the greatest pound-for-pound, I’m going to go fight him.’ OK, are you going to fight Jon Jones after that? Is he going to just keep going up and fighting the pound-for-pound guys? For me personally, if I’m a welterweight, I’m fighting at welterweight. I think they’re going to make a ridiculous pay day. I think they’re going to cash out with this fight. Sh*t for me, I’ll fight Anderson Silva tomorrow, because I know what they pay for it. If they’re making a big money pay out like that, but he’s not in that situation. Georges St. Pierre is already a millionaire. He has a comfortable life, he’s not married, don’t have any kids. He’s probably achieved everything he can in the sport. He really has to make a choice. He’s either going to finish out on top, or he’s got to make a decision: I want to keep going at this. Because you know what’s behind what he just did, it’s a whole new generation. It’s guys like me, Jake Ellenberger and [Johnny] Hendricks: intense wrestlers with heavy hands, hungry, want that title, and we’ll go after him. We’re not going to back up, we’re going to come forward and come after him. I think he has to make a choice if he wants to go through and fight four more guys with that mentality. If he does, then that’s great for me. I would love, and it would be an honor for me, to compete against him; but if he doesn’t, you can’t take nothing away from the kid.”
Be sure to check out the first part of Tyron’s interview where he talks about his upcoming fight and predicts that he will submit Jake Shields. You can also hear the entire episode of BJPenn.com Radio below, which featured Chris Lytle and Josh Thomson.