It's hard for Tyron Woodley
to stay patient. He's tried, and is still trying, but waiting his turn isn't the most natural of inclinations for the former Mizzou wrestler. That'll happen when you grow up with 12 siblings. Either you learn to seize your moment, or you get ignored.
But as the undefeated Woodley zeroes in on tonight's main event bout against Tarec Saffiedine
at a Strikeforce: Challengers
event in Nashville, Tenn., he has to remind himself that everything will come in due time – as long as he keeps winning.
"The fighter and the competitor in you comes out at a certain point," Woodley said of his rise through the Strikeforce ranks. "It's less about not rushing, and more about not comparing yourself to others. If you start looking at what other guys are doing, then you might get frustrated. So what I started doing is, I think that what God has in mind for my future and my plan is for me. Nobody else is going to have my route and what I'm supposed to do in mixed martial arts."
That's why, Woodley said, it didn't bother him in the slightest to see Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos get the next crack at Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz. Nor did he feel annoyed when K.J. Noons got the shot without ever having competed in Strikeforce's welterweight division.
Nope, not at all. In fact, he was so not bothered by it, he can't quite keep the edge out of his voice when he talks about it. Like the guy who claps just a little too loud and long when a colleague gets a promotion.
But this time, said Woodley, the fight with Saffiedine, surely this is his moment. The fact that he's getting it in the main event of a fight card on a free preview weekend for Showtime, when the premium cable channel is briefly available in 61 million homes? That doesn't hurt either.
"I think this fight means that whoever comes out of it is the No. 1 contender," said Woodley. "That's some big stakes. If they want to do it on free Showtime where 60 million people can watch, or if they want to do it on a main card, it really doesn't matter to me as long as I'm moving forward toward my main goal of getting the belt.
"It's either we're the No. 1 contender, or [the winner] will be fighting for the No. 1 contendership next. There's not a whole lot of people left to fight. It's either the winner of the Diaz-Cyborg fight, or it's Paul Daley. It's not like I have to guess what my options are. There's really only like three people left in the weight class."
But the bout with Saffiedine isn't just important because of what it could do for his career, Woodley said. It also represents what should be his toughest test to date in mixed martial arts.
"I think that, stylistically, [Saffiedine] is a tougher opponent. He's hungrier, and guys like us who are trying to get our claim out there, we're way more dangerous than the veterans who have been out there and got the name, got the experience, and already have people on their bandwagon. We're fighting for every little thing we get. This guy, I think, is the toughest guy in my weight division as far as how his style matches up for me."
It's no secret that Woodley would like to put the Belgian kickboxer on his back early and often. Saffiedine knows that, and he's no doubt spent the last several weeks preparing for it. But Woodley isn't out to win a wrestling match, he said.
"Nobody wants to see me laying on this man. If I do they're going to bring us up really quick and all that energy spent to put him on his back will be wasted, so it's about making every position count," he explained.
"I'm sure he's been training with some good guys, but he's not going to be able to pick up 18 years of wrestling in six weeks. There's certain things I can just feel and react to. Certain chains, things you learn in wrestling over time, over hundreds of matches. He's not going to be able to make that up. And I'm not trying to make up all the kickboxing experience he has. But what I will do is be functionally capable enough at it to get him to the ground, and what's going to stop them from brining us up is me punching him and passing the guard, punching him and going to mount, just continuous motion down there."
Woodley got to show off a brief glimpse of his improved striking game in his first-round TKO of Andre Galvao in October, but it was only a glimpse, he cautioned. After transitioning from wrestling to MMA when he began his amateur career in 2005, he's only recently started to feel at home on his feet.
And while his lackluster split decision victory over Nathan Coy last spring made some fans question whether his rise is more hype than substance, the truth is that the only fight that matters for Woodley is the next one.
"I'm not defending an undefeated record; I'm 0-0 right now. That Nathan Coy fight was so long ago, I just don't even think about it anymore. People bring it up and to me it's like something I completely washed out of my mind. Each fight, each battle, you get through it however you can and then it's over with. The Galvao fight, people didn't even really get to see my striking. What they got to see was me being comfortable. That's all. ...For me, each person I fight, it's a chess match to see how I can dominate them."
If all the waiting he's done is going to pay off, he has to make his case in the cage on Friday night. The step from prospect to legitimate contender is one that many fighters stumble over. If Woodley can't make the leap, his next move will be to the back of the line, and he knows it.
"Saffiedine is a good fighter," said Woodley. "He's a good striker. He's a threat in a lot of different areas. I just really think it's my time right now."
A man can only be so patient, after all.