For three long months, Tyron Woodley was the UFC's official No. 1 welterweight contender in waiting. But the fight game tends to have its own mind when it comes to matters like these, and after Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit set Las Vegas ablaze with an instant classic Saturday night at UFC 195, Woodley knows he may have some work to do if he wants to preserve his spot as the next in line.
"Even before the fifth round, the way that the fight was going, I already was thinking, ‘goddamnit, they're about to do this fight again,'" Woodley said Monday on The MMA Hour. "We are in the era of the rematch. People want to see a rematch every other weekend. How many rematches have you seen?
"In this situation, unfortunately, (there's) a little bit of damn controversy. But there's more variables than just that. Carlos Condit is mentioning retiring, so there's two ways that could go. He could retire and then it's obvious who's fighting next -- this man right here -- or he can go up to Dana White and be like, ‘hey man, if I don't fight my fight for the title, I'm going to retire.' And what do you think they're going to do? They're going to line his pockets and they're going to make it happen."
It has long been said that fairness is a fight game myth, and few understand that sentiment like Woodley.
The 33-year-old has been shelved since Jan. 2015, when he fought and defeated an opponent, Kelvin Gastelum, who missed weight by a whopping 10 pounds. That disaster led into a planned No. 1 contender bout against former champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 192, however for a second time in a row, Woodley's opportunity fell into shambles when Hendricks wound up hospitalized due to weight cutting complications.
With Hendricks out, the UFC had no choice but to scrap the contest just 24 hours before fight night -- yet Woodley still hit his required weigh-in mark of 171 pounds, if only to prove a point.
Woodley's professionalism was rewarded when the UFC announced that he would fight the winner of Lawler vs. Condit regardless. However, now that UFC 195's main event is being hailed as one of the greatest ever while simultaneously being mired in controversy, Woodley is once again left at a crossroads, unsure of what is coming next through no fault of his own.
"For me, this is my year, man," Woodley said. "You can delay, but you cannot deny. I need to make the t-shirt, that is going to be my mantra for the entire year. I will be the world champion and I am the best in the world. Watching that fight, I was inspired, but also I had the pen and notepad there and I saw a lot of opportunities where I would've seized the moment, where I would've not engaged into that freaking all-out brawl. I know you guys love watching it, but Carlos Condit could've found a way to get into a clinch, chop some elbows and knees, bring Robbie close to him and avoid letting him win that (fifth) round."
The UFC has yet to tip its hand as to its next step, whether Condit will earn an immediate rematch against Lawler or Woodley will face his American Top Team stablemate for the welterweight title. But it's no secret what Woodley wants.
He campaigned for the UFC to hold up its end of the bargain Saturday night as an analyst on the FOX Sports 1 post-fight show, and he stuck to his guns on Monday, saying that the UFC should "honor" what it promises to fighters.
"What if I (fight Matt Brown and) slip on the banana peel that Carlos Condit slipped on when we fought and then I'm out of the fight?" Woodley said. "Does he jump ahead and fight for a world title having never defeated a top-10 guy? Do I fight Demian Maia and it's a wrestling-fest that nobody enjoys watching? Nobody wants to see me do another Jake Shields fight. That's the risk that I put myself into. I would rather preserve my body, stay in shape, stay mentally sharp, be prepared, and get the world title fight and seize the moment.
"The money comes with the champion's belt," Woodley added. "That's no hidden secret. I'm trying to change my family's life. I ain't trying to just keep collecting checks and a few months later scrape again. I'm trying to secure longevity for my family, wealth for my family. I'm trying to leave a legacy. The goal is to be a champion, it's not to be a contender. So these are contender fights. I feel like I've done enough to have already fought for the world title before, so why should I have to do more?"
Woodley has been vocal about what he wants before, and for the most part, it has worked. He asked for the fights against Condit and Hendricks. He made the best of both of those opportunities once they were given to him. Now he wants only what he was promised in October, even if the realist inside him knows it may not happen.
"I've never asked for a fighter who wasn't either a No. 1 contender or a former title holder or a title challenger," Woodley said. "Think about my route. Jake Shields, fought for the title, he was a Strikeforce champ. Carlos Condit was an interim champ and fought for the title. Rory MacDonald. Everyone I've asked for. Johny Hendricks. It's not by design. People say, ‘Tyron picks fight.' You're damn right I pick fights. The fights I pick are hard.
"They're harder than the ones people offer me, and they're the people who are either No. 1 contenders or have formerly fought for the title. That's my goal to the top. I want to leave no question. So with that said, I have not talked with them (the UFC). I think they know the right thing to do. Some things gotta sort out, and I'm also logical. I know that people want to see Carlos Condit vs. Robbie Lawler 2, and I'm just preparing myself to be heartbroken again. But I'm telling you, if get heartbroken, it's going to get somebody hurt. It will get somebody hurt real bad."