He might not be your favourite fighter or even one that you like in any capacity, but if he keeps winning the way he has, there must come a point where you tip your hat to Tyron Woodley and accept his status as one of the game’s very best.
In a time where divisional stability has become a rarity and the value placed on UFC gold has become lessened to a certain extent, the promotion’s most talent-rich weight-class has seen a champion emerge that has managed to tame some of the most difficult styles the sport has ever seen.
A quick look at a list of the current UFC champions will tell you that out of those ruling the male divisions, only Daniel Cormier can boast a longer title-reign than the 170lb champ, Tyron Woodley.
Both men are tied for title-defences at three and out of the eight weight-classes from flyweight to heavyweight, they join Max Holloway and TJ Dillashaw as the only champions who have defended their belt successfully.
Sure, we haven’t seen Woodley fight in a while – over a year, in fact – but in the calendar year that preceded that, he managed to win and defend his title over the course of four fights, going (3-0-1).
I know Woodley’s last two fights have been ‘boring’ to a certain extent. To be honest actually, they were about as underwhelming a fifty-minute span inside the octagon as you could ever imagine seeing.
Since then, it’s almost become fashionable to hate on the champ. It’s almost frustrating to see how Woodley’s ability to fight a tremendously intelligent fight has seen him become one of the sport’s most unappreciated fighters.
You don’t have to like him, you don’t even have to watch him, but to deny Tyron Woodley his status as one of the very best fighters on the planet is laughable – especially if he wins this weekend.
The six fighters who are in front of ‘The Chosen One’ in the admittedly ridiculous UFC pound-for-pound rankings are as follows:
1. Daniel Cormier
2. Conor McGregor
3. TJ Dillashaw
4. Max Holloway
5. Georges St-Pierre
6. Demetrious Johnson
Now, I know these rankings aren’t credible but they do give an indication of who the top dogs in the sport are.
To be honest – and this will no doubt offend the vast majority of you – if I were to construct my own version of the P4P top-5, only Daniel Cormier and maybe Max Holloway would sit above Woodley in my rankings.
Tyron isn’t my favourite fighter, he’s not even close but if you actually sit back and ask what we’re judging these guys on, it’s hard to argue with the facts.
So why is Daniel Cormier the top-ranked competitor of the lot?
Well, obviously, he is a reigning two-division champion who holds the joint-longest title-defence streak out of the entire men’s roster as a light-heavyweight as well as an unbeaten record as a heavyweight.
He just starched one of the consensus greatest heavyweights of all-time in the first-round and despite those blemishes against Jon Jones, there is no-one more qualified to hold that position than DC right now.
In my eyes, he soars to the top of the pound-for-pound list because he has done the following:
Established dominance as a champion
Beaten high-level challengers consistently
Fought frequently with success
Achieved success across multiple weight-classes
On top of this, I would put forth a few other factors that wouldn’t really sway the decision but for now, let’s just keep it at those four.
Woodley has quietly become one of the UFC’s longest-reigning champions. Since annihilating Robbie Lawler at the very peak of his powers at UFC 201, he has managed to hold onto that 170lb title for longer than perhaps anyone would have expected.
Out of all the champions named above, Woodley would sit behind only Daniel Cormier in terms of the length of his reign in days – but when you consider that Tyron fought four times in the year he defeated Lawler, that’s hardly a bad thing.
If we take each fighter mentioned and their respective resumés, again, it’s pretty clear that Tyron Woodley is in the upper echelons of this discussion.
Below we count each guy in the top-5’s wins since becoming the champion (including the original championship win).
Daniel Cormier: Stipe Miocic (c), Volkan Oezdemir, Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson.
Conor McGregor: Eddie Alvarez (c), Nate Diaz, José Aldo (c)
TJ Dillashaw: Cody Garbrandt (c) x2
Max Holloway: José Aldo (c) x2
Georges St-Pierre: Michael Bisping (c)
Tyron Woodley: Robbie Lawler (c), Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia
It’s easy to forget how much hype both Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia had before coming into their respective bouts with the champ.
For years we had watched ‘Wonderboy’ evolve and hone his style for mixed martial arts and develop one of the most complete and visually pleasing striking arsenals the sport has ever known.
After annihilating both Jake Ellenberger and Johny Hendricks and out-pointing Rory MacDonald, he came into his matchup with Woodley with a reputation as a man who could well be the future of the welterweight division.
And yet, when the time came, Woodley nullified him.
Demian Maia had won seven straight, earning his way into his UFC 214 with a style of BJJ that carried with it a sense of inevitability. Those chained takedown attempts and that fear that came with seeing him grab a leg became a very real factor in his run at the belt.
There was something that he had been lacking when he originally transitioned to mixed martial arts and finally, Maia was figuring it out.
Until Woodley figured him out.
And in figuring him out, he defended 21 out of 21 of the Brazilian’s takedown attempts.
Two of the toughest stylistic matchups in the sport’s history and yet Woodley figured them both out.
It might not have been exhilarating to watch but when you consider that each man was riding a seven-fight win streak, it’s pretty clear that fighting a regular strategy wasn’t going to work.
In this category, I’d immediately give priority to a fighter we haven’t seen on the receiving end of a defeat in the last year or two.
Sure, fighters lose, it happens, but in reality, when you’re stacking yourself up against the elite of the elite, being able to consistently defeat the very best in your division without fail is paramount.
TJ Dillashaw and Conor McGregor definitely deserve top-5 status, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re looking at them in comparison to the likes of Cormier, Woodley, and Holloway – who haven’t lost in their last five fights, it does make a difference.
St-Pierre is in the list on the back of his earlier achievements – which, again, isn’t a massive problem but I would favour the modern-day fighter and a recent run in this area.
Success achieved across multiple weight-classes
Only Cormier, St-Pierre, and Conor McGregor qualify for this one and to be honest, though it helped DC into his top-spot, neither GSP or McGregor are exactly challenging him for the P4P spot outright as things stand.
If Tyron Woodley does, in fact, defeat Darren Till at UFC 228 he will become the longest-reigning champion out of the male divisions today.
He will have defended his title on four occasions and whether you like him or not – what else can you judge him on?
It’s a sport. You don’t knock a team off the top of the Premier League table because you don’t like the style of football they play.
Woodley is one of the game’s most intelligent, methodical, and tactically-astute competitors and it will take one helluva showing from the fighting pride of Liverpool to knock him off of his perch because even when faced with the most complex of puzzles, the welterweight champion of the world has prevailed.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena