When the UFC purchased the rights to Strikeforce in 2011, the company knew it was getting an absolute plethora of great fighters that would be a welcomed addition to an already stacked roster. This injection of talent would bring the UFC title contenders and holders for years to come.
Just to give readers an idea of the best fighters that fought for the Strikeforce organization, here’s a somewhat short list:
- Daniel Cormier
- Cung Le
- Luke Rockhold
- Tarec Saffiedine
- Alistair Overeem
- Gilbert Melendez
- Ronda Rousey
- Jake Shields
- Miesha Tate
- Sarah Kaufman
- Ronaldo Souza
- Gegard Mousasi
Those are just the champions and former champs. The list does not include those who fought for titles and were unsuccessful, or those who just weren’t in the title picture, but still count as big names. Many of these fighters are certainly familiar to avid MMA fans. There were also a lot of returning UFC fighters, like Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, Fabricio Werdum and Josh Thomson. In addition, long-awaited possible acquisitions like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Fedor Emelianenko were also on the docket, but their entrance into the UFC has been a complicated process so far.
Anyway, you get the point.
One other fighter who joined the UFC ranks was Tyron Woodley, also a longtime veteran of Strikeforce, but one who never got that coveted gold strap with the defunct organization. Woodley lost his only title bid against the aforementioned Marquardt in July 2012. Now, as a fixture in the UFC since 2013, Woodley is looking for the same opportunity on the biggest combat proving ground in the world.
If that wasn’t already hard enough, Woodley, a welterweight, is competing in one of the toughest divisions in the UFC, where reigning champions have ruled for endless numbers of years at a time. To top it all off, the division’s current champion is the aforementioned Lawler, a hard-hitting striker with granite for a chin. Lawler is Woodley’s teammate at American Top Team, and he has been a valiant champion who has already put on some ridiculously competitive wars with the likes of Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit.
So, in other words, if Woodley were to get a title shot against his fellow Strikeforce veteran and current teammate, which is rumored for UFC 201, then he would have a steep hill to climb.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the matter: Has Woodley done enough in his UFC career to deserve a shot at the title?
Let’s base this judgment on a number of separate, but important, metrics: His win-loss record, the quality of opponents he’s fought, how he’s performed against these opponents and his current standing in the rankings.
First, let’s go strictly based on his record and the results. Overall, Woodley is 15-3. He’s split his results three ways by getting submissions, knockouts and decisions at five a piece. For the most part, when it comes to getting title shots in the UFC, you have to rack up most of your wins within the organization to truly get the title shot you deserve, unless you’ve been overly dominant and wiped out most of your prior competition in the division. Clearly, Woodley didn’t do the latter, so that option hasn’t been considered. In the UFC, he has a 5-2 record with four finishes and one decision victory, so he is definitely worthy to be considered for an opportunity.
Second, we’ve got the quality of opponents and how he’s performed against them. Woodley’s lone Strikeforce loss came against the aforementioned Marquardt in a fight for the Strikeforce welterweight title. He was ultimately knocked out in the fourth round, so it was definitely a hard-fought battle. His second loss was in his second UFC fight against another Strikeforce veteran, Jake Shields, where he lost in a very close split decision. The scores tallied by the judges in the Shields fight were so bizarre that two of them gave two rounds to Shields, while one judge gave all three rounds to Woodley. His most recent loss on record was against Rory MacDonald, who beat him in a clear unanimous decision victory. Notable wins for Woodley were knockouts of Jay Hieron, Josh Koscheck and Dong Hyun Kim. While Woodley technically has four finishes in the UFC, one of those TKO wins was against the aforementioned Condit, who he blew out his knee after a leg kick from Woodley. Not exactly much of a finish, but a win nonetheless.
Finally, we go by Woodley’s standing in the official UFC rankings. He is currently sitting in third, behind Stephen Thompson and the aforementioned MacDonald, who are facing each other at the UFC Fight Night 89 event in Canada on June 18. If Thompson defeats MacDonald, the UFC will only grant him the title shot against Lawler if he outperforms expectations. It’s doubtful (but still possible) that MacDonald gets a rematch if he wins, though, only because he already had his shot and lost. What should happen, though, is that if Thompson wins, he should face Woodley to determine the No. 1 contender. The justification here is based on rankings and who has already fought for the title. This would be the only fair way to handle it for all parties.
If MacDonald wins, however, that creates a bit of a quandary for the UFC. MacDonald already fought Lawler for the belt and was knocked out in the fifth round. It was an epic fight, though, so it’s possible UFC execs are looking for a rematch there. Besides, if that rematch is made, it could set up the Woodley/Thompson scenario. However, if Thompson wins and gets the title shot, it doesn’t make sense for Woodley to face MacDonald again, since they already fought and the Canadian won so unanimously. It’s going to be hard for Woodley to have a dog in the fight between MacDonald and Thompson, as either one of them winning could be bad news for Woodley’s next shot. Then again, if their fight ends up being a brutal war, it could just result in handing Woodley the next shot, especially if those two end up getting lengthy medical suspensions.
Ultimately, with all these different metrics being used, you would think it would simplify the decision on who should get the next shot at Lawler’s belt, but it only complicates it more because of all the different possibilities. More importantly, if someone were to ask if I think Woodley deserves the next title shot, I would have to say no. The reason is because he hasn’t truly beaten any top-five opponents yet to deserve the chance to face such a great fighter as Lawler. Woodley’s definitely had some big wins, of course, but nothing really convincing over big names that gets him over the hump. If his fight with Condit wasn’t stopped by a freak injury, it would have been a great battle. I’d like to see those two fight again in the future, but not right now, seeing as how Condit isn’t even in the current title picture, especially after losing to Lawler in the last welterweight title fight.
As for the current time period, Woodley needs his next win to be a big one to prove himself worthy of fighting for championship gold, or else he won’t get the chance. On the other hand, if the chance just gets handed to him, as it might be if he is indeed fighting Lawler at UFC 201, then he’s going to be eaten for lunch by a guy that has proven to be a tough fight for just about anybody that challenges him. Woodley knows it, too, because he trains with that guy.