The Woodley Problem

UFC 214 featured three title fights and while two of the three ended in a knockout, the third bout between UFC welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley and the submission specialist, Demian Maia fought five full rounds of a less than exciting chess match that ended with Woodley getting his arm raised.  Although Woodley did reveal he suffered a shoulder injury early on, the flashing cell phone lights caused by the Anaheim crowd during the bout is proof that there is something lacking in Woodley’s game despite being one of the most talented fighters in the UFC today.

Woodley is surprisingly 35-years-old despite physically appearing as if he found the fountain of youth long ago.  His game can be described as a mixture of lightning quick hands with a strong wrestling base while possessing one punch knockout power.  Upon reaching the top of the mountain, Woodley was dealt a crucial loss to Rory MacDonald in 2014 in a fight that critics described as Woodley failing to rise to the occasion, instead lacking in confidence and killer instinct.  UFC president, Dana White was probably Woodley’s biggest critic during that period as he told the media that Woodley is guilty of choking during big fights following the loss.

The loss was highlighted by MacDonald’s striking total dwarfing Woodley’s in the course of three rounds and that could be when his lack of volume in striking came to light. If you take a look at Woodley’s striking totals throughout his Strikeforce days, you’d find that he’s been consistent in being economical in his striking and perhaps it’s due to his muscle excess, which could lead to a smaller gas tank.  While Woodley sports an 18-3 MMA record, the losses might’ve affected his mental state more so than his victories.

We’ve witnessed the age of the former UFC welterweight king, Georges St Pierre play the safe route during his bouts against a long line of contenders.  It’s understandable that GSP was unlikely to stand in the middle of the cage and brawl, but Woodley is simply put an entirely different animal.  What GSP lacked in hand speed and punching power, “The Chosen One” is blessed with.

Woodley’s recent affairs against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Demian Maia might not have ended in a knock out seconds into the bout the way Woodley defeated Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 when he won the title, but it’s important to note that it takes two to dance.  Both Thompson and Maia made the mistake in expecting Woodley to eventually change his game plan.  The challenger in a title fight is always expected to try and leave no doubt that they deserve to be champion, but neither Maia nor Thompson put the plan into action.  One can argue that Woodley abandoned this mentality since adopting the method when the shoe was on the other foot, but he has already proven to have weaknesses in the cage.

Woodley for whatever reason has the habit of backing into the cage when pressured as he is content with trading forward momentum for an opening to counter with a punch.  He’s also not known for high volume in punching and yet both Thompson and Maia failed to pull the trigger.  When it’s all said and done, Woodley is still wearing gold today and that is the ideal goal for any champion. The problem is that he isn’t winning any fans and is hurting his chance of being included in the next big pay-per-view card.  Today’s MMA Hour interview was further proof that while Woodley may be “The chosen one,” he is still struggling with the mental side of the game whether it’s in the cage against a dangerous opponent or outside of the cage responding to critics.

There shouldn’t be anything taken away from Woodley because he has proven to be a true go getter in terms of handling his career.  He’s a world champion who landed several big movie roles and managed to be involved in two of the UFC’s biggest events while working the Fox desk in his downtime.  Since his next opponent could be Robbie Lawler, there is a chance we’ll witness the aggressive side of Woodley once again.

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