UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley successfully defended his title against Demian Maia. However,despite his winning performance, Woodley won’t be rewarded with a big-money fight against Georges St-Pierre. The two were expected to meet if Woodley could get past Maia at UFC 214.
Woodley’s title defense was anything but spectacular. He soundly beat Maia by decision, but he did seemingly nothing in the process if we look at the stats. To other fighters, Woodley’s defense was a simple masterclass effort. Maia had been rattling off submission wins against the elite of the welterweight division for some time. Maia’s ground game seemed like an inevitable and impossible force to stop. Woodley’s chances in defending his belt wouldn’t look great if he engaged in a mat battle with the jiu-jitsu ace. Instead, his one goal was to avoid the takedown at all costs. The cost turned out to be a marquee match-up with former welterweight champ GSP.
Woodley has been a very underrated champion for some time. However, his victory over Maia didn’t warm the hearts of the fans, but instead confirmed their previous view of the champion.
Despite Woodley’s standing, the remaking of the previously planned bout between GSP and Michael Bisping is the absolute right call by the UFC brass. The fight might not make sense to most fans — GSP isn’t a true middleweight and never lost his welterweight belt before retiring as champion after a close victory over Johny Hendricks — but it has to appeal more than pairing the legend with Woodley after such a conservative performance from the reigning champ.
There was no knockout for Woodley. There was one knockdown, which came in round two, but there wasn’t any moment where Woodley went for the finish and tried to capitalize on a hurt Maia. There wasn’t a dominant ground performance where Woodley had a chance to end the fight. There was just distance. Woodley kept Maia on the feet and tried to avoid the threat of a takedown. Through five rounds, Woodley landed just 57 significant strikes. He only landed six significant strikes in the first round and never surpassed 15 significant strikes in any round. The same numbers apply to his total strikes. Maia, meanwhile, couldn’t land more than nine strikes in any round. The Brazilian also failed on an astounding 21 takedown attempts.
It was a smart game plan by Woodley to win the fight against a guy who has been unstoppable. However, it wasn’t a crowd-pleasing affair. Woodley hasn’t been in many of those in his UFC tenure. Some of us can appreciate a more methodical approach to victory, but the fact remains that most fans want a knockout or submission. Woodley himself said as much in his post-fight press conference. Yet, his two recent fights against Stephen Thompson and now his conservative showing against Maia demonstrate that he isn’t always capable of delivering.
Fans are more likely to tune in and watch Bisping, the UFC’s middleweight champ, fight GSP. Bisping has been on a streak en route to capturing the championship. His run comes with a couple of knockout victories over Dan Henderson and Luke Rockhold. The fight is an easier sell based on Bisping’s scrappy style. The UFC will simply earn more money by putting GSP against someone who will actually go for broke and try to get the finish.
Bisping also sells fights a ton easier than Woodley. The Brit has been very outspoken over the course of his career. Of course, that comes with some controversies, but Bisping simply knows how to promote a fight and has effectively done so over and over again. Heck, he even tried to sell it just after Robert Whittaker became the interim middleweight champion, and this despite Whittaker being his typical nice-guy self. Bisping is known for his grit and heart, too. He keeps fights going as long as he can.
GSP isn’t the most exciting fighter. After his loss to Matt Serra, St-Pierre really moved to a conservative, yet dominating, approach. Yet, his return has the potential to draw fans who remember him as a legend and possibly the greatest welterweight the sport has ever seen. A great first fight sells a possible second fight. Even if it isn’t close, it sets up more potential super fights for GSP if he wins. Before the arrival of McGregor and Rousey, St-Pierre was the reigning pay-per-view champion. The UFC can’t risk throwing GSP into a boring fight for his first foray back into the Octagon. It needs to be something brilliant, and it needs trash talk — from at least one side, anyway — to build interest.
In terms of charisma and fighting style, a fight between Bisping and St-Pierre is a better option for the UFC. At the end of the day, MMA is a business. Whatever makes the most money wins out. It’s why Conor McGregor is going to boxing. It’s why the UFC brings back Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar. It’s why Woodley won’t be fighting GSP anytime soon. It’s why GSP is the answer while the UFC tries to find other stars to help fill the pay-per-view void.
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