Tyron Woodley is a man on a mission. At 31 years of age and of the belief he's finally turned a corner in his fighting career, he's ready for the top prize: the UFC welterweight championship. Despite a couple of hiccups along the way, he's almost there. He got even closer on Saturday when he defeated Carlos Condit at UFC 171 in the second round of their bout.
And yet, Woodley knows his mission isn't just to parade his accomplishments, but to lobby on behalf of them. There's belief in the ATT product, but there's still lingering uncertainity about whether he's the next guy who deserves a shot.
Take, for instance, the Condit bout. Despite winning every minute of the contest, some have suggested it was Condit's injury that ended the bout, not Woodley's dominance. For that, and almost any other criticism one could conceivably mount against him, Woodley has an answer.
"I think anyone that's in some forms of media or spectators, the good stories don't always make the front page," Woodley told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "People want the spice, all the 'what if he would have not got hurt? He could've came back'. What people fail to realize is that it was seven minutes into the fight. I was winning the fight. I won the first round. I was the first two minutes of the second round and had no intention on slowing down the pace, so for me, it was going as planned.
"It was actually initiated by offensive takedown," Woodley said of Condit's injury. "It wasn't as if he slipped on a banana peel and he hurt his leg. I timed a great double leg. I ran through him like a freight train and when I saw him wincing or hurting, I went after the leg. I think that if you submit someone with an armbar, if choke them out, if you punch them in the jaw and you break their jaw, you kick them in the body and they can't continue, it's the same concept. It's not like I did like Chris Weidman did. I lifted up my leg to check a leg kick and I broke his leg. I offensively attacked him. I feel like that diminishes all the hard right hands and the takedowns and things I did before that."
In Woodley's mind, he did everything he needed to in that bout to secure a title shot. The UFC welterweight even notes that the method of victory over Condit deserves more recognition. Woodley believes he was unfairly pigeonholed as a fighter who was going to use wrestling and only wrestling to defeat Condit, but what he showed was a diverse offensive arsenal.
"I think no one expected me to outstrike Carlos Condit. They expected me to take him down and lay on him. They expected me to talk about striking with him," he said.
So was striking with Condit just to show off? No, says Woodley. That, too, was strategic.
"I knew that if he beat me, if it was a close hairline decision, he was going to get a title shot regardless. I knew I had to go out there and show them a guy that I'm worthy of a title shot. That I have the components of a champion. I went out there. I outstruck Carlos Condit. I hit him with some bombs in the first round. Many guys that would've got hit with that right hand would've went down. I might've hit him harder than I hit [Josh] Koshceck and he has a jaw, I can tell you that much.
"I beat the number two in the world. I should've been able to enjoy that moment, but I knew what people were going to do. People were going to be asking questions, 'What if...what if'. What if I turned the fight up to 10 when it was only on 5? They didn't announce a world title fight. I think if he would've won, it would've been an immediate pairing, immediate match up. I didn't really like how that went down, but you can only delay, you can't deny. I will be the world champion. I will be the best in the world. If they give me the title shot, it's the right move, they should. If they don't, I won't cry over spilled milk because I've been in this situation before as you know."
Woodley isn't confused about the current predicament of the welterweight division. Certainly he sees himself as the front runner, but he knows he has to lobby because there isn't one in the minds of the larger public or UFC brass.
Two other names being floated as potential title contenders are Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz. As far as Woodley is concerned, they had their chance to be placed at the front of the queue and passed on it. Woodley says he didn't do that and that's why he's ahead of both of then.
"Everybody that's coming out of the woodwork and guys that retired that are coming out - [Nick] Diaz on the sidelines - if you wanted the title shot, brother, why didn't you get in the cage with Carlos Condit when you had the chance? You shouldn't have been sitting ringside. You should've been in there. You had the opportunity before me.
Of all the possible contenders, Woodley reserves his strongest challenge to Diaz. When asked what he'd do if Diaz, who is currently on a two-fight losing streak, was offered the next title shot, Woodley was unequivocal.
"Is this going to be a pay-per-view fight or on Comedy Central because the last time I checked, he hasn't beaten a wrestler ever in his career. He hasn't won since 2011. He took his retirement since the last year, so how does he come in after he lost to Carlos Condit, which he had the chance to redeem his loss? He didn't take it. He's sitting ringside taunting Johny. I just don't think on merit alone, I don't think he deserves it.
"I can be an ambassador for the sport, but with integrity. I think he lacks integrity. I think he lacks merit. If they give him the title shot, I'll be very furious with it."
Woodley then turns his attention to another elite welterweight who wasn't in attendance at UFC 171: Rory MacDonald.
"Rory MacDonald, why didn't you take the opportunity when you had the opportunity? I feel like everybody's tooting their horn and everybody wants to do it because they think it doesn't matter. What I'm going to do is I'm going to let the people decide.
"Diaz is purely trying to get it off of pay-per-view buys, hype and drama. Other guys are trying to get it off merit. I think I'm all three. I think I stepped up to the plate. I think I walk like a champion. I think I act like a champion. I think I look like a champion. I think I'm marketable. I think I fight a great style. I think I'm great for the company and I think I deserve it. So all those different reasons for me I think I should be in the front of the line."
If that weren't enough, Woodley also claims there's another reason he should get the next title shot, namely, his rivalry with current UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks.
"Me and Johny got some unfinished business," Woodley says. "People don't realize that."
"Me and Johny wrestled in the Big 12 finals a while ago. I wrestled him and it was a situation that happened in the match where it was a claim that I bit him and I bit his finger. And I ended up losing the Big 12 title because of this penalty point. For years, really up until the last two or three years, I was furious. I wanted to hurt Johny. I wanted to fight him. I think it was a blessing in disguise because at that time, it wasn't going to be competition. It wasn't going to be strategic. I was just going out for the kill because the Big 12 title, sometimes that's bigger to use than the NCAAs.
"Everybody views him as this wrestlers that has such amazing wrestling. He has the greatest credentials. Johny will let you know: we had wars. Johny's not above me in wrestling, no matter what the credentials say. He's done more. When it comes down to the NCAAs and he gets under that light, he'll perform. He's always done that. That's what I respect. Now that I know I can go and compete against him, my chances of winning a fight are great."
Ok, so if Diaz, MacDonald, Lawler and Jake Shields are out of the picture, what about Hector Lombard? After all, he looked good enough beating Shields at UFC 171. And the two losses on Woodley's record - a loss to Nate Marquardt in Strikeforce and Shields in the UFC - came against two fighters Lombard beat.
Once again, Woodley believes his resume is the final trump card.
"I say Hector Lombard's a great friend and teammate, but if we have to just bring out pure facts, Hector Lombard is ranked below me. Two, then he fought a guy that was ranked below my opponent, which is number 6. I feel as if he did beat up Nate Marquardt, who was softened up by Tarec Saffeidine and also by Jake Ellenberger. To be quite frank, probably softened up by certain supplements he was taken. When I fought him, he was on all cylinders. I don't think we've ever seen that Nate Marquardt ever before and we haven't seen him since then.
"Jake Shields, yeah, he had a good performance against him. Jake is very hard to look good against, but in my defense, I feel like [our fight] was very controversial. A lot of people believed I won that fight as I did. Even in victory, I would've rather lost to Jake than won that fight and everyone talk about how boring it was and how I didn't do anything and how I just threw a couple of punches. So, it almost helped me get the Koscheck fight, which, for me, jumped me ahead both of those guys."
Woodley acknowledges UFC brass have a tough decision. That's why he's pounding the media pavement so hard just days after what is arguably the most significant win of his mixed martial arts career. He believes his resume merits, yes, but he also is acting almost as his own attorney or manager or spokesperson, trying to sell the argument to as wide an audience as he can.
For what it's worth, he says he isn't stressed over it all, although that's hard to tell through his salesmanship. He believes if it happens, it happens. If not, he's ok with fighting someone else to get there. He says the Shields defeat wasn't just his last loss, but his last loss. The way he views it all, he just can't loss. Not right now. Give him the title shot today or in two fights, he believes he's fulfilling his destiny to be the next UFC welterweight champion.
"For me, it's really like putting it in god's hands," Woodley says. "I know I deserve it, but whether I get it or not is really out of my control. I gotta be wise enough to know that I can't stress myself over things that I cannot control."