Tyron Woodley has respect on his mind, but Demian Maia has the biggest opportunity of his career in his sights. At UFC 214 this weekend, only one can be victorious.
The most pleasantly surprising addition to the stacked UFC 214 card was the addition of Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia. The bout may have been rushed, but the fight has huge implications for the rest of 2017 as the winner could headline the UFC’s return to Madison Square Garden later this year.
For welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, his current run has elevated him from surging contender to one of the most highly regarded fighters in the world. His upset win over Robbie Lawler to win the title in the first round shocked many, but to follow it up with a draw and victory over Stephen Thompson has made a believer in “The Chosen One” out of many.
And yet, he still has more work to gain the respect of the greater public. Perhaps it is the fact that many expected Lawler, not Woodley, to be in the position he is in now. Engaging in fight of the year candidates at MSG and preparing to square off against welterweight legend Georges St. Pierre should he get the victory. He is applauded for his work as an analyst on FOX and he is considered one of the UFC’s elite, but recognition as one of the best pound-for-pound continues to elude him.
He is heavily favored to defeat Maia on Saturday, but it is still no easy task to eliminate the BJJ savant inside the Octagon. Then there is the matter of the future. UFC President Dana White has stated that the winner of Saturday’s bout will face St. Pierre in their next outing. GSP has been away from the Octagon for several years, but it is a testament to his star power that the middleweight division was held up for most of this year as he worked toward a fight with Michael Bisping. Now, he will likely be the marquee attraction in the Big Apple.
Woodley is understandably skeptical of the fight happening. He believes he is a bad match-up stylistically for GSP and that the former welterweight champion will return to his attempts to make a fight with Bisping if Woodley wins on Saturday. A critical welterweight tilt is occurring between two of the top fighters in the division, and yet Woodley is once again taking a back seat to another fighter.
While Woodley has work to do, the more difficult task goes to Demian Maia. Maia recently survived a razor close contest with Jorge Masvidal in May, and steps into the fight on barely a month’s notice to take on the champion. The situation is unfavorable, to say the least. The belief is that Woodley was planning to fight in Anaheim for awhile and was getting himself in shape for the date regardless of the opponent.
In his favor, Maia is on a seven fight win-streak. Prior to his fight with Masvidal, he had only absorbed 13 strikes in six fights as he took out his competition. The statistic is unheard of in modern MMA and is a testament to the level at which Maia is currently fighting. He is the underdog against Woodley, but in his career there has never been a better time for him to pull off an incredible upset.
Stylistically, the contest favors Woodley’s takedown defense and explosiveness. He defends an astonishing 92% of takedown attempts. Comparatively, Maia completes only 31% of his attempts in getting fights to the mat. Of course, the key is that Maia is among the best in the world at maintaining control of his opponent on the mat.
On the feet, Woodley’s speed and explosiveness look to be the major factor. He is a powerful striker and his fight IQ is among the best at 170. His ability to neutralize a phenomenal striker like Stephen Thompson is evidence that while Woodley may not be the most dazzling on a technical level, he is nonetheless an extremely intelligent tactician.
Taking into account his size and strength, the fight favors a Woodley finish. Maia struggled on the feet with a fighter he could not finish on the ground with Masvidal and he has not displayed the skill level that suggests he could rally back to hurt Woodley if he falls into a deficit on the feet. He has the skills to finish Woodley on the ground, but the task of getting him there in a manner that allows him to control top position will be the true challenge.
A title fight always caries plenty of pressure. But, there is plenty to prove on a personal level for both men. Woodley needs to be impressive to continue building his case for more respect amongst the greater MMA public. Maia has long embodied the spirit of traditional martial arts, amongst which being prepared at all times is one of the hallmarks. Defeating an opponent like Woodley on short notice under such circumstances would be the biggest win of his career even without the belt on the line. With such stakes, there’s plenty of reason for the co-main event to steal the show on a stacked night of fights.