With the welterweight division basically a free-for-all for contenders as champion Johny Hendricks recovers from his bicep surgery, the campaigning to get a title shot has reached an all-time high.
There’s Matt Brown, who after defeating Erick Silva in dramatic fashion has now won seven fights in a row, lobbying for his title shot. There’s Robbie Lawler, who wrecked Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173, vying for his rematch with Hendricks. There’s Nick Diaz, who’s in the kind of young retirement that’s not immune to bribes.
And then there’s UFC 174’s original contenders, Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley. Now that Georges St-Pierre is taking a break from competition, his former training partner MacDonald isn’t hindered from fighting for the 170-pound belt, and he’s made it known. MacDonald has gone 6-1 over the last couple of years, and is coming off a solid victory over Demian Maia.
As far as stating cases, though, the former University of Missouri wrestler Woodley might be the most persuasive. He’s been actively pushing for a title shot since his TKO victory over Carlos Condit. And when he signed on to fight MacDonald in MacDonald’s hometown of Vancouver, he was told that a chance to fight Hendricks loomed in the balance.
Then Brown had a big performance, and so did Lawler, and they were booked to face one another at UFC on FOX 12 in San Jose in a title eliminator. That news came down just as Woodley was in the midst of his training camp, and it had to be a disappointment, right?
Woodley appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour to talk about it.
"My initial reaction was obviously not excited, jumping over the fence and looking for rainbows in the sky," he told Ariel Helwani. "For me, I was pretty upset because I was told verbally through Dana White and Lorenzo [Fertitta] that I would fight this kid, and I would fight him in his hometown, and the winner of this bout would get the shot at the world title. So for me, I thought the risk matched the reward. I was prepared to go up to this kid’s hometown and steal a show and upset the party in his hometown, but in my mind it was worth doing that to fight for a world title.
"But I’m a man of my word. I’ve trained hard for this fight. I put all my ducks in one basket. I’m going up there and I’m going up there to win, and I think that no fighter in UFC history has ever had [it] in their contract, ‘if you win this bout against this guy, you are guaranteed a world title fight.’ So though they said that, I think that performance conquers all. I can go out there and outperform those guys. I would have beaten the No. 2 guy back-to-back. So I think I would have put myself right in that category to fight for a world title, and I think that if the fans get behind me and really rally up, we still can see still see me fighting for the world title."
Just like all the aforementioned welterweights, Woodley’s case isn’t perfect. He did suffer a loss to Jake Shields at UFC 161, but it was a squinting split decision that Dana White himself said was probably wrong. Before then, in his bid for the vacant Strikeforce belt against Nate Marquardt in mid-2012, he lost via knockout.
But surrounding those setbacks are a small litany of triumphs, and those are what Woodley touts as evidence. Especially in the case of Brown, who is criticized for advancing through the ranks without having defeated a top 10 opponent.
"Matt Brown has won seven fights in a row, but if you do the math he was 12-11 before he won those seven fights," Woodley said. "None of those seven wins were against top 10 opponents. Granted, he’s a tough guy, I actually really enjoy watching him fight -- he has more heart than most welterweights. But he hasn’t beat one top 10 guy.
"And I can argue that Tarec Saffiedine was a top ten welterweight. Paul Daley was a top 10 welterweight. Josh Koscheck was a lineal top 10 welterweight, and Dana White out of his own mouth said I got screwed in the Jake Shields fight who, at that time, was a top 10 welterweight. With those things in mind, and not even including the Carlos Condit, who was No. 2, and Rory MacDonald who’s No. 2. So we can talk top 10 opponents, but I can say I’ve beat the top 2 guys back to back."
Woodley said he sent White a text when news of Lawler-Brown came out, a restrained text that he edited four times, to respectfully disagree with the new direction. But ultimately, he says, he realized that he’s a subcontractor in the UFC, a money business, and that performance predicates action.
"You know, I had a feeling that, when Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler fought, they were told the same thing," he said about the promised title shot. "I get a feeling that Nick Diaz, if he would fight Matt Brown, he would get a title shot. And I think Rory, as well as me, was told that if he won this bout he would get a title shot. I think it’s the organization’s way of getting us pumped up, making us want to go out there and put on a crazy performance and really putting a flame beneath us…as well as the performance bonuses and those other things. I know there’s some politics involved with it, and some pay-per-view sales involved with it, but I think after the performance I plan on putting on June 14, everybody will see why I’m the next champion, and why I’m ‘The Chosen One,’ and why people will want to see me fight for a world title and hold that belt.
"[The news] knocked the wind out of me for a second, but I had to realize, you know what? This is a long journey.
"You remember the Strikeforce days. I had to fight it the same way there, working through the ranks. I just don’t want to be so antsy like I was then, that when it finally came it didn’t mean much to me. The belt didn’t mean as much as I thought it would because I had to work too hard outside the fighting just to get it. I’m not going to pitch a fit, I’m not going to go crazy on the Internet and cry or complain. Us welterweights have done enough of that over the last three months. I think it’s time for me to just go out there and show through my performance why I should be the next person in line, and why I will be the next champion."