Fight of the Night candidates usually have one thing in common: There's a seesaw nature to how the fight plays out. At some point the tables turn, or a fighter given up for dead comes back or goes for broke.
In the case of UFC 205's co-main event between Stephen Thompson and welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, the pendulum swung big time in the fourth round. That was the round that Woodley knocked Thompson down with a knee to the body, and — rather than delivering more strikes to put him away — opted to snatch his neck and go for a guillotine choke.
Woodley had the choke in deep, and held it for a dramatic few moments as Thompson winced and turned red.
It swung again when Thompson improbably popped his head out, and ended up on top of Woodley to close out the round, as the sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted in cheers. Thompson came back to win the fifth round and force a majority draw against Woodley, and the champion is still smarting about his decision to go for that choke.
"I'm mad," Woodley said during an appearance on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "I regret doing that, and I'll tell you why. Because we had worked so many different situations for that fight, and I don't want to disclose it because who knows I might see him in the future and I want to keep those things I didn't show him in the fight. But, at the weigh-ins I look at his head — and I say this, because for some reason I've got to preface every statement I say because everybody tends to take everything I say out of context — he does not have a large head.
"So when I was thinking about any front headlock chokes, guillotine chokes, things of that nature, I'm like, man, he might be able to pop his head out."
Woodley said the regrets began to set in immediately, in part because his arms were burning from having exerted himself so thoroughly. And in part because Thompson had now broke off a little momentum after being on the ropes.
"So when I took him, I threw one knee to the body, it caused him to go to the ground," he said. "He went to the ground from that knee, and that was the third time he was dropped in that round. At that point I wish I would have taken his back, put the legs in and started punching him out, and if he gave up the rear-naked choke go for that. But I just, it was so many reps on front headlock, side position. When I get into those positions, I just react because that's what we work. I really wish I would have punched him a couple of more times. There was one time the referee said, 'come on Stephen, defend yourself, defend yourself,' and I was, he's about to stop the fight. And I just punching, punching, punching. I started punching and he stood up, and it was just like, 'oh my god...he freaking survived that.'
"So I was like, forget that, I don't care, I'm going to just keep pouring it on. I'll get him back down there again and then I started flashing those knees, and I'm not a very tall welterweight. So I wasn't reaching the head with those knees, so I started going for the body. So I kneed him in the body, and that's the one that sent him to the ground."
At one point, Woodley said he thought he punched Thompson back into consciousness. The fourth round was a wild one, and so were the scorecards. One had it a 10-8 for Woodley, while the others had it a 10-9. Woodley himself said that he loved his decision to go for the choke as it was happening, up until the moment he lost it.
"I had a really tight guillotine choke, so when I went for it I had it tight," he said. "Then he tried to sit up and I adjusted it tighter, and — it's jiu-jitsu 101 — if his head's flat on the ground, the top of his head and his neck's cranked like that, it's in deep. So I had it super deep. He was dry heaving, he was panicking. At the moment I thought he was going to tap or pass out, so I said, you know what Tyron, keep squeezing the shit out of this dude. Do not care, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. And then when that little nugget popped out the top, I was like, oh my god. I was so mad.
"And then at that moment I was like, I should have just swept him. I should have just went for an armbar right off of it. Then I just said, you know what, I'm going to just hold his arms. I was hammerfisting because I saw that cut bleed. So I said, let me just hammer that baby and try to make some more blood come out, then in the fifth round I'm just going to have to come out guns blazing."
Ultimately Woodley retained his belt, though it wasn't as satisfactory as he'd hoped it would be. UFC president Dana White said in the aftermath that he would like to see an immediate rematch between Thompson and Woodley.