UFC Vegas: Woodley Finally Returns to the Cage Against Burns

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Tyron Woodley, UFC 235
Tyron Woodley Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

Former champion Tyron Woodley will be making his long awaited return on Saturday as he faces an experienced and dangerous foe in Gilbert Burns at UFC Vegas.

It has been a much longer road back to action for Tyron Woodley than any could have anticipated. ¬†After more than a year outside of the cage, “The Chosen One” was originally set to return on March 21 in London. ¬† Within a week from the event, the card went from being scheduled to proceed as planned, to being moved to the United States with a new opponent for Woodley, to being cancelled altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic. ¬†His return even hit one final speed bump, with the UFC planning to hold the event on May 23 before news broke last week that the event would be moved back one more week to May 30.

All of this has made for a more anticipated return for the former welterweight champion. ¬†Coming off an uninspired loss to Kamaru Usman last March in which he lost his title, there was great anticipation to see if UFC London would be a return to form for Woodley. ¬†Since 2014, he had not suffered a loss during a run that saw him face the likes of Robbie Lawler, Stephen Thompson (twice), Kelvin Gastelum, Demian Maia, and Darren Till. ¬†During his time as champion, Woodley became a prolific media personality. He held down jobs as an analyst on FOX and ESPN, had a role on TMZ, made appearances on shows such as¬†Hawaii Five-0 and¬†Wild ‘N Out, and even released a rap album. ¬†Woodley has admitted that there were various distractions that came with fame and relocated himself to Singapore for his latest training camp where his sole focus could be on his fighting career.

Gilbert “Durinho” Burns was not the first choice to step into a fight with arguably the second best welterweight in the world. ¬†But after plans for both Leon Edwards and Colby Covington fell apart, Burns received the opportunity to make a leap in competition. ¬†A UFC veteran since 2014 who started his career at 10-0, Burns struggled to put a long win-streak together at lightweight for his first few years in the promotion. ¬†In 2018, however, Burns began his current run that included moving up to welterweight and defeating opponents such as perennially ranked contender Gunnar Nelson and former title challenger Demian Maia.

Notably, Burns will become the first fighter to compete twice during the coronavirus pandemic when he enters the cage against Woodley.  At UFC Brasilia on March 14, Burns stopped Demian Maia without spectators in attendance.  That event took place at the earliest stages of the global lockdown and without the widespread precautions in place now.  Burns said competing that night felt like being on a secret mission, but now he will be using his familiarity with the experience on a bigger stage as he looks to break into the title picture.

Stylistically, the well-rounded game of Burns figures to pose a challenge to the more experienced Woodley. ¬†The former champion looks to fight at a more measured pace so Burns should look to set the pace early with volume and footwork. ¬†Furthermore, Burns is an adept grappler and his best route to victory would be to use his striking to set up takedowns and get the fight to the ground where Woodley’s power and wrestling are neutralized. ¬†Woodley is the more explosive fighter and should look to use powerful leg kicks to hamper the mobility of Burns. ¬†While Woodley has been hugely successful as a counter-striker, he must be careful of falling behind on the scorecards if he is struggling to reach Burns by the latter part of the fight.

The victor of this bout will likely be matched-up with either Colby Covington or Leon Edwards in their next outing.  Woodley has a history with both, with a battle with Covington being long-awaited and having been previously scheduled to face Leon Edwards back in March.  Burns, should he upset the longtime former champion, would be in a position to seek the same match-ups as he climbs up the rankings.  Either fight would help elevate both Woodley and Burns into title contention after Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal presumably meet later this year.

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