Tyron Woodley feels he’s a different fighter than the man who lost the UFC’s welterweight title to Kamaru Usman. That title fight loss, just over a year ago, was Woodley’s last appearance inside the octagon. Until this coming Saturday, when he returns at UFC Vegas (technically UFC on ESPN 9) against Gilbert Burns.
It was supposed to be Woodley vs. Leon Edwards back in March, of course. That welterweight fight, which might have served as a title eliminator, was the main event of this year’s UFC London card. The coronavirus pandemic, however, had other ideas. The event was moved stateside in a desperate attempt to salvage the show, then mothballed.
Now it’s Woodley vs. Burns. A fight that really no one sees as a title eliminator. Woodley (19-4-1), however, isn’t looking past this weekend.
“Winning in a dominant fashion [against Burns] is going to set up a lot of openings for me,” Woodley admitted. Including a rematch against Usman. However, he added, “not looking so far down the road is what’s going to help me out in this situation.”
Of course, that goes hand-in-hand with what Tyron Woodley says is a new approach to the fight game. Which has meant “re-prioritizing my life, and putting myself back in position where I can be the dominant champion I once was.”
That involved “a lot of re-focusing,” Woodley said. Getting rid of distractions, be they people or otherwise. Eating, sleeping, training — “I just got back to the basics. Now I’m the Tyron Woodley that fighters should be scared of, and fans should be excited to watch fight.”
Woodley admits that, going into the Kamaru Usman fight, he felt the opponents he’d already fought were “the stiffest competition. I felt like all the great welterweights I’d beat before then were going to be my toughest competition.”
Against Usman, Woodley felt he had the game plan mapped out so well that he was in a great position to win. To retain his title once again. When it didn’t happen, Woodley admitted, he was left in a state of depression.
“I plan on making this a complete lifestyle change,” Woodley later promised. “The way that I’m taking the fight game, and really— my focus is set back to that amateur Tyron Woodley that was trying to turn professional, and wanted to fight in the UFC, and wanted to be a champion, and wanted to reign, and wanted to be the greatest.”
It’s all a matter of having slightly different motivations now. “I never had the motivation just to make it to the UFC. That set me apart right from the beginning,” he noted.
While making it to the UFC is something to be proud of, said Woodley, “that wasn’t enough for me. Being a champion wasn’t enough for me. It got to the point where I wanted to be the greatest welterweight of all time.” That still might not seem like a bad goal, but Woodley’s approach is slightly different these days. “Now, I want to change it to where no matter who they put in front of me, no matter what the situation is, my performance is so dominant that I don’t have to talk, I don’t have to beg, I don’t have to ask, but the respect due is going to be given automatically, because you’re not going to be able to deny me.”
“For the rest of my career, just winning is going to do nothing for me,” Woodley later added. That’s a commitment he made to himself, his coaches, and family, not because of a loss, but “because I’m capable of it. And if you’re capable of it and you don’t do it, then what are you out there for? So I’m going out there every single fight for the rest of my career, and I’m going to let everybody know that I’m the best.”
UFC on ESPN 9 goes down this Saturday, May 30 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV. The event airs live on ESPN (TSN in Canada).