Becoming the UFC welterweight champion is a task only nine people have accomplished, and Tyron Woodley is one of those people. While impressive, the Missouri native has a few paths to all-time MMA greatness in front of him.
Alongside the likes of Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, and BJ Penn, Tyron Woodley has achieved things the vast majority of fighters can only dream of. Taking advantage of the right opportunities at the right times has culminated in a career any professional fighter would be proud of. The best part? There’s plenty more for the 35-year-old to accomplish.
He secured wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, and Dong Hyun Kim before knocking out Robbie Lawler for the UFC welterweight title in July of last year. Woodley then defended the belt against Stephen Thompson, twice, putting him in a tie for the fourth-most defenses of the 170-pound belt (2) with Lawler.
That’s all fantastic, and Woodley likely deserves more credit than he’s given. But he has an opportunity, thanks to the current landscape of the UFC’s welterweight division, to do even more. The champ is slated for his third title-defense later this month, when he finally takes on long-time contender Demian Maia at UFC 214. Maia’s been collecting victories on a regular basis, winning seven straight fights since his loss to Rory MacDonald at UFC 170 in 2014.
The best grappler in the UFC, Maia provides Woodley a completely different problem to solve than his previous two fights against the karate-based Thompson. The ability to defeat these highly-skilled and specialized opponents, within months of each other, would further legitimize Woodley’s title-reign.
Woodley isn’t allowed to look past Maia. If he does, this article goes to waste, and many major career opportunities potentially go by the wayside for the current champ. But, we’re allowed to look ahead, and the future for Woodley is full of high-profile matchups. The most obvious being with the longest reigning welterweight champion in UFC history: Georges St. Pierre.
It’s what the UFC wants, according to promotion President Dana White. According to St. Pierre, the Canadian has other immediate plans surrounding Michael Bisping’s middleweight title. How the situations with St. Pierre, Bisping, and the welterweight and middleweight title-fights in July shake out will play a major role in Woodley’s future. Whether or not GSP challenges for the 170-pound belt in 2017, reclaiming the title he never lost is undeniably on his to-do list. As long as Woodley can hold onto the welterweight crown, the opportunity to challenge the UFC’s greatest-ever 170-pound champion will be there. And with a win over GSP? What then?
Earning victories over the likes of Thompson, Maia, and St. Pierre in a 12-month span would be an incredible accomplishment for Woodley. It would also give him a large spotlight, increase his notoriety, and cement his place among the pound-for-pound best fighters in MMA today. Around that same time, a certain Irishman would likely be looking for a fresh challenge following his foray into boxing.
There were rumors and reports of discussions between Woodley and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor’s camps earlier in 2017. Talk of “superfights” and “moneyfights” were and are all the rage, and if a few of these puzzle pieces fall into place, Woodley-McGregor could actually fit the bill. A champion vs. champion matchup featuring two of the best in the sport would be an easy sell, and a massive test for both parties.
Again, Woodley probably only has this opportunity as long as he has the welterweight title. But if he does, with wins over Maia and St. Pierre added to his tally this year, don’t be surprised if McGregor turns his attention to Woodley and attaining a third UFC belt. While the bulk of the media would be focused on McGregor, Woodley would have the ability to deny the Irishman of yet another historic moment, while recording one of his own. As Nate Diaz has proven, there are few things more valuable in MMA than a win over McGregor.
Although St. Pierre and McGregor are legitimate options for Woodley, should he defeat Maia at UFC 214, banking on matchups is something everyone should avoid. Even without those major bouts, Woodley has plenty of options to continue growing his legacy in the welterweight division and beyond.
At 170-pounds, depending on how things go, there are intriguing matchups as well. A rematch with Robbie Lawler we could get behind, and it wouldn’t be hard to do the same with Donald Cerrone. Jorge Masvidal has also looked great recently, despite his close loss to Maia at UFC 211. Of course, the shape and status of the welterweight division will change over the coming months. But, Woodley has shown the ability to adjust to a wide range of diverse opponents throughout his career, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue to successfully navigate those waters.
There’s also the draw of middleweight gold. How interested Woodley is in becoming a two-division champion is another discussion, but as is the case with many of these major opportunities, the door is open as long as he’s the welterweight champ. There were public talks between Woodley and current middleweight champion Michael Bisping earlier this year, signalling the 170-pound champion’s willingness to move weight classes in order to get the fight he wants.
He’s achieved a lot and has plenty to be proud of, but Tyron Woodley has a few paths in front of him that lead to all-time greatness. He’s recorded victories over several of the best fighters in MMA today, and has created opportunities for even more high-profile matchups. As long as he’s the welterweight champion, and continues his impressive form throughout 2017, the likes of St. Pierre, McGregor, and more will come knocking.