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Tyron Woodley talks history with Robbie Lawler, says UFC 201 matchup not official yet

Esther Lin/MMA Fighting

Tyron Woodley recently received some good news.

Reports surfaced that the UFC is targeting a matchup between Woodley and welterweight champion Robbie Lawler for UFC 201 July 30 in Atlanta.

It's that verbiage that is a little worrying, though. "Targeting." "In the works." Every report comes with a qualifier, indicating that nothing is official.

"I would say ‘targeted,’ ‘in the works,’ I would say that’s accurate," Woodley told MMA Fighting. "I would like to think this is officially...You know, Jon Jones fought April 23, then he was ‘officially’ fighting Daniel Cormier. These guys had a bout agreement signed, then he was on a press tour. I understand the game. I’m not a sensitive guy. But I realize I’m one fight away from not having any other fighter dictate my future...All I have to do is perform, then you won’t have ‘targeted,’ you won’t have ‘in the works.’ You will have a bout agreement. You’ll have it signed."

Currently, Woodley says a verbal agreement is in place between him and Lawler.

"Both guys have agreed to the fight, but the bout agreement has not been signed," Woodley said. "It’s a crazy world, man. It’s targeted for [UFC] 201, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us fighting on 200."

While the 15-3 fighter remains confident that the fight will happen as planned, that "crazy world" he speaks of looms large. Until papers are signed, the bout could potentially change, a point Woodley understands all too well—especially as it pertains to facing Lawler.

"Me and Robbie have a ton of history," Woodley said. "We were scheduled to fight at the last Strikeforce [event], but it got canceled. I was asked to fight him when he fought Bobby Voelker [at UFC on Fox 8]. So it's something that isn't new for us. We’ve had to talk about this a lot—communicate and be OK with this, and we’ve talked well before we got to this point."

Adding depth to this matchup, Woodley and Lawler boast an extensive history of training together at American Top Team. When Woodley was first getting started with pro MMA in early 2009, Lawler was already 21 fights deep into his own career. So when they first linked up, Woodley took every opportunity to learn from Lawler and to pick his brain.

This relationship directly lead to the beginning of Woodley's Strikeforce career, where he gained national recognition.

"A lot of people don’t know this, but I saw Robbie Lawler inside the Scottrade Arena for the NCAA wrestling tournament," Woodley said. "I wasn’t even wrestling, I was coaching, and I saw him, and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up, man? I heard you’re fighting Jake Shields here in St. Louis. I gotta be on that card. Strikeforce can’t come out here and not put me on the card.’ And he opened up his phone and said, ‘Here,’ and gave me Javier Mendez’s number. I took that number, I called Javier—I didn’t even know who the hell Javier Mendez was—I told him I want to fight on the card, I’m an All-American wrestler, blah, blah, blah, and he said, ‘Cool. We’ll see what we can do.’

"I ended up getting on that card. I fought on that card when Robbie fought Shields. It was my first Strikeforce fight. And at the weigh-ins, a guy walked up to me, the owner of Strikeforce, and he said, ‘Hey, who do I need to talk to to sign you to a six-fight deal?’ So, God works in mysterious ways, man."

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