LOS ANGELES -- Tyron Woodley can't pretend to work up some sort of hatred for Carlos Condit just to sell their UFC 171 main-card bout on March 15.
For one thing, Woodley admires the former UFC interim and WEC welterweight champion for all the reasons fans do: Condit's fearlessness, his well-rounded skill set, and his willingness to take on all comers have made "The Natural Born Killer" one of the sport's most respected competitors.
And besides, it's the latter point which got Woodley this fight in the first place. Many felt that Condit deserved the bout against Johny Hendricks for the vacant title which headlines the event in Dallas, but Robbie Lawler got the shot instead. Woodley knows he cut the line at welterweight by waging an open social media campaign for the fight and is grateful Condit accepted the challenge.
"I was asking for the fight no one was asking for, because they knew the task was great," Woodley said over lunch late last week. "I was very persistent, and because everyone else didn't want it when he needed an opponent, the fact is, this guy step up and gave me the opportunity."
The closest thing to a dig at Condit comes when Woodley is asked which version of Condit is his favorite. Woodley insists that Carlos Condit who burst into national consciousness with the WEC was a better fighter than the guy headlining big UFC events today.
"The best Carlos Condit I've ever seen was probably the WEC Carlos Condit, to be honest," Wodley said. "I remember he used to come out in the opening rounds finish the same way, he'd get a ton of submissions, a ton of finishes. In the UFC I think he's faster and he's evolved a little more, but I think he feels people out now."
And in that, Woodley sees his window for victory come March 15. Woodley has long been known as a fast starter. In Condit's big recent fights, against Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann, he's started slow and come on strong late. The Hendricks bout was a three-round fight, and Hendricks got the decision. The Kampmann bout was a Fight Night main event in which Condit got the finish in the fourth.
"The reason this is such a great style matchup is, we're the polar opposites of each other," Woodley said. "He's more of a volume puncher, I'm more of an accuracy power puncher. He's more of a ground player, I'm more of a wrestler who's going to be on the top. I've got more power, he's probably better at scoring points. So I think that style wise, this is a crazy fight. I start fast. I usually win the first two rounds of every fight. He usually loses the first round and comes on in the second and third."
Of course, the Condit fight isn't the first time the 31-year-old Woodley has stepped up in competition. The other two times he's been given the opportunity to get to the next level have produced both of his career losses, as he dropped a Strikeforce welterweight title fight to Nate Marquardt, and then a UFC 161 bout against Jake Shields.
That lends an extra layer of urgency to UFC 171.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Woodley said. "I think losing to Nate, I mean, losing to Jake showed me nothing, I just didn't fight the way I should. Losing to Nate showed me that I'm tough, man. He hit me with hard crazy shots, I remember thinking, there's no way I'm going to lose, I thought I couldn't lose with everything that was at stake. When he flashed me, I was in a state of shock. Nate taught me I can't relax, I can't take anything for granted. Not for a second."
As for Shields, well, let's just say he considers it less of a learning experience than the Marquardt loss.
"I didn't have the performance I should have had," Woodley said. "He hurt me one time the entire fight, on the forehead as I was coming in. He got dropped, he got kicked ... I couldn't really take advantage. I was mad at myself. I'm not mad at him, he's the last of the one-trick guys and he did his one trick."
Condit vs. Woodley, of course, is the welterweight appetizer to UFC 171's main course of Hendricks vs. Lawler.
Lawler is Woodley's training partner at American Top Team. He's unabashedly rooting for his teammate, but he's also plotted his course through the potential political minefield which awaits should both Woodley and Lawler win at UFC 171.
"I would like him to win, because he's my teammate and I want him to be the world champion, so we make our brand as one of the best gyms in the world," Woodley said.
But should both fighters end up on the winner's side of the podium at the UFC 171 post-fight news conference, Woodley knows which question is likely to be the first one asked.
"If we get to the point, I think we'll have to talk about it," Woodley said, "Because if we get to the press conference we'll be asked about it and I don't want to be put in an awkward position where we're like ‘let's get it on,' you just don't do that. If we both win, I think me and Robbie would have a conversation in the locker room first so it's not like that."
Woodley stops and nods, as if to acknowledge he's getting ahead of himself. After taking a minute contemplating his shrimp cocktail plate, he says all this talk means nothing if he doesn't cash in on his big opportunity, the one he talked his way into in the first place.
"I'm just thinking about the style matchup," Woodley said. "The things he does well, the things I do well, just try to make a good game plan for the fight. If I go out there and fight hard and fight well, everything else will fall into place. One person, one fight, 15 minutes."