Las Vegas is a gambler’s town and for several UFC fighters, they are gambling their status in the rankings every time they step inside the octagon. They test themselves all the time, and during these uncertain times, that takes a whole new meaning.
One thing to keep an eye on is the UFC’s welterweight division. While champion Kamaru Usman has suitors in Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor, two fighters are ready to go to war in order to make a major statement. One fighter, “The Chosen One”, is looking to reclaim his status as the top dog in the division. Another, a surging star, is looking to move closer to his shot at championship glory.
On the return of “Why Should I Care“, FIGHT SPORTS looks into the welterweight bout this weekend, May 30, featuring Tyron Woodley and Gilbert Burns. The fight will take place inside the UFC’s APEX Center.
𝘞𝘏𝘖 𝘠𝘈 𝘎𝘖𝘛?
— UFC (@ufc) May 29, 2020
A world-class athlete, Woodley (19-4-1) reigned as UFC Welterweight Champion from 2016-2019. When he lost to Kamaru Usman back at UFC 235 in March 2019, about 15 months ago, he didn’t show the same aggressiveness fans have known him for. He seemed distracted, like he wasn’t worried about the fight at hand. His doubters, which there were strangely plenty of, had a reason to pounce on him while he was down, forcing him into seclusion.
Woodley spoke with MMA Fighting about his mindset heading into the fight with Usman. He felt like he was on cruise control, thinking ahead of time what he was going to do. At the moment, he had no idea that the complete opposite would happen against the current champion.
“The switch didn’t switch instantly. It took months,” Woodley stated during UFC on ESPN 9 media day. “I went into a state of depression for a while. I really wasn’t talking to a lot of people. I was eating terrible. I wasn’t training.
“I just wasn’t in my body that night,” Woodley said. “I haven’t really watched the fight. I haven’t really focused too much on it just focused on moving forward from it. That’s what I’m doing right now.”
The 38-year-old wrestler, who won the 2003 gold medal for the Big 12, was supposed to fight twice since losing the title. He had to back out of a fight with Robbie Lawler in June 2019 because an injured hand, something he had for a while, was not healing. He then was supposed to face Leon Edwards this past March at UFC London. However, due to the coronavirus, the bout, and UFC card in general, was postponed.
His path was unclear and it frustrated Woodley. Before the Usman fight, Woodley was singing his way out of the hearts of fans, and UFC President Dana White was trying to get him to understand who he was as a fighter. Perhaps it was done in a negative light, as Woodley didn’t feel respected. Now, a new fire has risen for Woodley, something he believes can make him a dangerous fighter.
“But I do feel that this is a Tyron that I haven’t seen in a very long time,” Woodley stated to ESPN. “This is a Tyron that was an amateur fighter, the one trying to make his pro debut, the one trying to be in shape at any time to fight anybody. My coach said to me the other day, he said, “Tyron, I haven’t seen this Tyron in a long time, and I’m glad he’s back.”
Woodley claims the jiu-jitsu capability of Burns (18-3) won’t be able to stop him. The 33-year-old Burns, ranked sixth in the UFC’s welterweight rankings, shot up there following a shocking knockout-win over Demian Maia back in March at UFC Brasilia. It was his fifth win in a row, ending Maia’s three-fight win streak.
Burns is facing quite possibly the most dangerous opponent he has ever faced in Woodley. A wrestler and striker, Woodley was able to outlast Maia for five rounds. A man who is in the top fifteen of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, it is a fight that Burns personally has himself invested in.
“It’s like the kid in the class where the teacher asks any question and they put their hands up, ‘Me, me,’” Burns stated to the UFC. “That was me. Who wants to fight (Tryon) Woodley? Me. I want to fight, especially the number one contender and former champ.”
A multi-time jiu-jitsu medalist, Burns has eight wins via submission and six via knockout. Variety is key when it comes to his game plan, and he will look to use it each round he is in. That is especially true when he sees a crack in Woodley’s armor.
Woodley believes the fact that he has been in five-round fights before and Burns hasn’t is something that will affect his opponent. He also says Burns is a sacrificial lamb for him. Burns looks at Woodley’s past fights and comes up with one simple conclusion: he is predictable when it comes to a type of fighter.
“When he fights a guy who really has only one style, he’s going to win,” Burns stated to Yahoo Sports. “When he fought Darren Till, he knew Till wasn’t going to take him down. He was going to strike with him. When he fought ‘Wonderboy’ [Stephen Thompson], he knew Wonderboy was only going to do karate and not try to get him to the ground and grapple with him.
“If you fight him and you’re one-dimensional, you’ll have trouble. I know I can’t just wrestle. I can’t just rely on my jiu-jitsu. I can’t just strike. I have to mix it up and if I do that, I will be fine.”
Is Burns someone Woodley truly hasn’t challenged before? Will the layoff affect the former champion, or is his motivation the ultimate key to victory? There is no trolling on social media, or pre-fight squabbles. This time, Woodley came to put on a show. By the end of the night, the welterweight division could be back to what it was or there could be a new sheriff in town.
The main card of UFC on ESPN 9 begins at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+.