Tyron Woodley is a happy man. The UFC welterweight has been campaigning for what has felt like months to get a fight against former champion and top contender Johny Hendricks. As it turns out, his wishes have come true. The pair will meet at UFC 192 in October. Woodley says this is the best time for the two to meet given the surgery on his foot that was required after beating Kelvin Gastelum in January. In fact, it forces him to count his blessings twice since he was originally asking for Hendricks on the UFC 189 card, something that, he says, is thankful it never materialized.
"I'm 100 percent now," Woodley told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I was bumping my gums pretty loud. I knew I wasn't going to fight on the July card, but I was pushing for it and if they would've said, 'Yeah, man, I'm ready to go, you get the card in July', my eyes would've opened up like this. Physically, I thought I was going to be ready and I wasn't, but now I'm 100 percent healed, I'm 100 percent mentally ready and I got that break and I had that family time, now I'm ready to fight.
"Sometimes it becomes a chore and it becomes a job, but I'm at the point now where I'm eager. Right before I called you, I just got off the phone with Duke Roufus and Din Thomas," he explained. "We coordinated the training camp, how much time I'm going to spend in Florida, how much time I'm going to spend in Milwaukee, the weeks, what we're going to work on and everybody's excited. It's like they're fighting, too, because when I go in the Octagon, I'm a representative of guys like [Ricardo] Liborio, guys like Dan Lambert, Din Thomas, Duke Roufus. These guys, they go into the Octagon with me. I'm just excited."
Woodley says the camp will start in Milwaukee and end up at American Top Team in Florida before he returns home to Missouri to make the very final adjustments before flying out. "I'll get back home, get my weight down, get on that plane and go out there and beat Bigg Rigg down like he's never been beat before," he stated matter-of-factly.
Still, there's a pervasive question. Welterweight is stacked. Woodley's at the top end of it, but he chased Hendricks specifically. What was it about the Team Takedown welterweight that was so essential for Woodley?
"Because I'm a sportsman, man," he says. "I want to fight the best. He's a former champion at one point. He's had three or four title shots, one of them he pulled out, the others were very close. With that said, he's arguably one of the best if not some think he's the best guy in the world. I can go and out fight a fighter that's outside the top 10 or a fighter that's a good style match-up and go out there and put on this crazy performance, beat him up and look all amazing and get a title shot off that.
"For me, I know that beating the best and continually, consistently doing that is going to make my road to the top deserved and earned," he continues. "That's why I can go look in the mirror, go to sleep at night and feel comfortable about that."
As it turns out, there's more than that. Woodley's explanation of the current circumstances are true. Hendricks is highly ranked and a former UFC champion. That's a scalp anyone would want. What compounds the interest, so to speak, is their history. The two wrestled in college in the same conference, but in a pivotal match, Hendricks controversially got the upper hand.
"I wrestled Johny in the Big 12 finals. It was a very close match," Woodley recalls. "I was in on a single leg trying to take him down to go out by the lead. He put three fingers in my mouth and he started pulling my face away to get me off of his leg. He looked to the ref, he was like, 'Look! Look! He bit me! He bit my hand! He bit my hand!' Then the referee didn't even ask me, didn't check for bite marks. They just penalized me a penalty point and that was the difference maker of the match.
"With that and just that history, I lost that close Big 12 match. I never got over it," he admits. "I had to really forgive him because I wanted to beat him up. The Big 12 finals, that's almost more important than being an All-American because the Big 12 was so deep with talent, so many national championships and All-Americans. When he decided to put those three fingers and fish hook me, I got penalized for biting him. I'm like, 'You put your fingers in my mouth.'"
Woodley isn't blind, though. He might be frustrated with the outcome of that match and want to exact a bit of revenge, but it's not from a place of anger. He says it's precisely the opposite. It's his respect for Hendricks that pushes him to go the extra mile and seek the toughest challenge.
"With that said, that's the stuff I know about him as a competitor. That makes me want to train hard because I know what I'm up against. Even just watching his fight against Robbie [Lawler] the first time. That was a close fight. He had to steal that fight in the last 90 seconds of their first time meeting.
"It's no vendetta, it's no 'I hate this ugly smirk he got on face' or I think my beard's better or his belly's big, none of those things are a reason why I want to fight him."
And as far as Woodley is concerned, Hendricks is the same way. They're both family men today and in different places in their lives. Yes, the past isn't completely the past, and the present is pleasant, but both know the future is still to be written.
"One thing that separates us from other fighters, we're actually really not fighters. We're competitors," he says. "So, I can talk with him, smile with him, have a drink with him. When they lock that cage, I'm trying to knock him out. I'm trying to hurt him and I think he's going to try to do the same thing to me."