Tyron Woodley is already the most accomplished welterweight champion since GSP. Can a win over Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 finally set up the pay-per-view blockbuster he’s been seeking?
Tyron Woodley has officially defended the welterweight title three times and appears set on shutting down the new wave of contenders that have broken into championship contention. Kamaru Usman is on the best win streak in the division and a victory over Woodley would be the ultimate cap to what has been an impressive run. Only one will walk away from UFC 235 with a gold belt around their waist.
As the welterweight division continues to churn out contenders, Tyron Woodley has only strengthened his case as the best welterweight in the UFC today. He has not lost since 2014 and has victories over the likes of Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit, and Stephen Thompson. Even as world champion, he’s continued to improve as he’s shut down tactical veterans like Demian Maia and powerful upstarts like Darren Till. It bodes well for him as the division shows no signs of slowing down as surging contenders Santiago Ponzinibbio and Colby Covington are both vying for title shots of their own in 2019.
Outside of the Octagon, Woodley has become one of the most prolific media personalities in combat sports. To list some of his other ventures: He is an analyst on ESPN (and FOX previously,) he hosts the segment “The Hollywood Beatdown” on TMZ, he’s been a guest on MTV’s Wild n’ Out, and he appeared in a speaking role in Straight Outta Compton. Outside of television, he even released a rap single featuring Wiz Khalifa following his title defense against Till.
The one thing “The Chosen One” hasn’t been able to secure is a blockbuster fight that would headline a major card for the UFC. Despite three title defenses, Woodley has never been booked for a fight that would headline a tentpole event such as one of the annual Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve cards. He has campaigned for such bouts in the past, calling for fights with pay-per-view attractions like Nick Diaz and even challenging former middleweight champion Michael Bisping. More recently, he has shifted his focus to becoming the other side of a superfight by becoming the dominant force that another champion would be enticed to try to topple.
For even a champion of his prowess, Woodley has a tall order in front of him in the form of top contender Kamaru Usman. “The Nigerian Nightmare” currently has the best win streak in the welterweight division with nine victories and a list of victims that includes Rafael dos Anjos, Demian Maia, and Leon Edwards. When UFC 233 was at risk of cancellation, he offered to step-up on short notice and fight Woodley or Covington. Neither bout materialized, but when the time came to book Woodley for March, the UFC chose Usman over Covington for his willingness to step up on short notice for the company.
The one criticism of Usman is that despite his tremendous strength and wrestling ability, he has struggled to get stoppages of opponents during his run. At critical times when contenders like Till and Covington were gaining notoriety with performances and personality, Usman would turn in workmanlike victories that failed to excite fans and kept him under the radar despite his success. However, defeating a former champion in dos Anjos last November in decisive fashion affirmed that he was ready for the biggest challenge in the division.
Stylistically, both are athletic fighters with impressive wrestling and power in their hands. Woodley has been the more consistent in being able to finish opponents, but Usman is as close to a mirror image of the champion as currently exists in the UFC today. Usman should look to utilize high volume to outwork the champion. Woodley is one of the best at finding openings to land his power shots so Usman should try to keep him moving backward and on the defensive.
Similar to the recent bout between Paul Daley and Michael Page, Tyron Woodley could look to use the threat of his power to set up a takedown in the middle of the Octagon. Both men carry incredible statistics and credentials in wrestling, but Woodley’s striking could help to set-up a takedown and put Usman on his back where he is least dangerous.
The welterweight division shows no signs of slowing down in 2019. Covington and Ponzinibbio are valid options as the next title defense for both men, and Kamaru Usman could also see Ben Askren if he is successful at UFC 235. Most notably, activity will play a factor. The welterweight championship has only been on the line a maximum of twice per year since 2016. This means that while the aforementioned contenders are ready for a title shot on paper, they will have to risk their place in the title picture before possibly fighting for the belt in 2019.