At UFC 161 Jake Shields fought -- and beat -- Tyron Woodley via split decision, which just might be the greatest smoke and mirrors trick ever pulled. That’s because ten months later, Shields is unceremoniously out of the UFC and Woodley, ever-campaigning to begin his championship reign, is getting set to fight Rory MacDonald in a title eliminator at UFC 174 in Vancouver.
If current welterweight champion Johny Hendricks wasn’t on the shelf after bicep surgery, Woodley might have already been booked to fight for the welterweight belt.
How’s that for an Etch-a-Sketch division? Shields, 1-1 since beating Woodley, is out while Woodley, 2-0 since losing to Shields, is groomed for a title shot. It’s a reality that fighters grapple with (while smart ones choose to stand and bang): In the UFC there’s no promise of tomorrow, and yesterday, depending on the slant, may or may not matter.
Not that the one-time standout University of Missouri wrestler is complaining about the careening nature of things. Woodley knocked out Josh Koscheck in his rebound fight and was having his way against Carlos Condit at UFC 171 before a knee injury forced Condit out. And you know what? With the shake-up since Georges St-Pierre went on sabbatical, Woodley’s credentials gleam in a certain light.
Now Woodley, who just signed a brand new eight-fight contract with the UFC, finds himself heading off to MacDonald’s home province of British Columbia for a June fight to decide who’s next for Hendricks.
"Usually I don’t like to give up the home court advantage to anyone," Woodley told MMA Fighting. "For me it’s like, I feel what Johny Hendricks was feeling where he had to continue to prove…and continue to prove…and continue prove himself. So I got to go up there and whoop this young dude’s butt in his backyard and send a distinctive, clear message in front of his judges, in front of his crowd, and I’ll do it and that’s one way to assure they don’t deny me a shot at Johny Hendricks."
One of the major discrepancies heading into that fight will be in the personalities. The 24-year old MacDonald is generally perceived to be very serious minded, particularly during fight week, while Woodley is lighter in his step, more prone to call things as he sees it.
This was already in play when MacDonald tweeted out, very point blank, "I would like to fight the winner of Hendricks and Lawler" back in February, days after he defeated Demian Maia at UFC 170. To this Woodley replied, "I would like to fly and be invisible. Nice try!" That was before he beat Condit.
That’s just a sample size of what’s in store.
"Rory’s the kind of guy, I can imagine him in school, he was probably picked on, and he probably just can’t take a joke," Woodley says. "I’m the opposite. Like there was a comedian, Adam Hunter, who does that fake text message exchange [on Fox Sports]. And he joked me, and I thought it was hilarious. He said, ‘Joe Rogan says Tyron’s been working on his cardio, he promises not to gas on the way to the cage.’ So I though that was hilarious, but I don’t think Rory would be able to take a joke like that."
Of course, Hendricks’ injury allows for a tidier bit of matchmaking for Joe Silva.
In angling for a title shot, MacDonald’s own resume is pretty complicated too. Though he defeated Maia, he had a five-fight winning streak snapped against Robbie Lawler in a listless showing at UFC 167. And the last time he fought in his childhood home of Vancouver, at UFC 115 in only his second appearance in the Octagon, it was a sour homecoming. That was the fight he was on the verge of beating Condit but ended up getting caught in the final seconds of the bout with a punch.
With Woodley having recently gotten his arm raised against Condit, the merit of who deserves what depends almost entirely on your biases. That’s why Woodley says he can accept the idea of fighting MacDonald while Hendricks if only to make things more definitive.
"I told him, Rory, I want to fight you because you’re one of the top welterweights," he says. "Take it as a privilege, and take it as me showing you respect. I want to be a world champion. I said, don’t take it as I don’t like you or that I’m taking digs at you, I want to fight you because you’re at where I want to be at, in the top two to fives. You are fighting these top guys and beating them but you don’t want to fight for the title, so I want to fight you because I want to fight for the title and you don’t.
"But now that [his training partner] GSP is out I think he does, and I think it’s going to be a harder fight for me because now he thinks, damn, I can go in there and try to win this title. But, I’ll tell you, I don’t plan on going up there to get whooped."
As for the idea that he’ll need to win emphatically with the Condit fight ending in an injury -- or the idea that MacDonald might be reluctant to engage him given his recent showings of power -- Woodley isn’t too worried.
"I think whether he wants to or not, we’ve all seen my ability to get from point A to point B, I just don’t think he’ll be able to stop me from getting in his face," Woodley says. "And I don’t plan on standing outside. I think he knows I’m going to come at him. I came at Carlos Condit. Condit’s coach Mike Winkeljohn said, ‘nobody wants to stand and fight Carlos Condit,’ and I begged to differ. The best striker got out-struck by the best wrestler.
"If it was Jake Shields it might be different. But I think Jake had a different type of magnetic ability to slow down fights and keep you from being aggressive with your striking. Rory decides when he wants to be aggressive and when he doesn’t with his strikes, but he doesn’t overly try to grapple out of the situation. I think Rory, he’s a smart kid, he’s going to try and utilize his range and other tools, but I like to play a chess match as well."