Just a few hours into his reign atop the UFC welterweight division, Tyron Woodley already ruffled some feathers in his new role as champion.
Woodley captured the title on Saturday with a stunning first-round knockout over Robbie Lawler at UFC 201, then wasted little time calling out two of the division's biggest draws -- UFC legend Georges St-Pierre and the newly unsuspended Nick Diaz -- for his first title defense. One name was curiously left off his list, and that of course was the division's No. 1 contender Stephen Thompson. However, Woodley reiterated the callouts on Monday, defending his position of wanting a big money fight now that the 34-year-old veteran is finally in a position of leverage.
"I want to say I'm the best in the world," Woodley said on The MMA Hour. "Right now I'm the UFC welterweight champion of the world. People can say I'm the best in the world, but I've fought Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz is not a retired fighter. So, why not compete against Nick Diaz, who is definitely a top-five (fighter)? I feel like his brother is finally cashing in on that big payday, but I do believe Nick Diaz has brought enough attention to the sport, raised enough eyebrows, put enough butts in the seats, sold enough pay-per-view buys. Maybe he deserves -- since we're using this world ‘deserves' so much -- maybe he deserves to cash out, and that's why I made a suggestion for UFC 202. It's three weeks away, I'm in great shape, and I know he's training with his brother getting him ready for his fight.
"Secondly, Georges St-Pierre is the best of all-time. I can say I'm better than Georges, but I've not competed against him so I can't really make that bold statement. If Georges St-Pierre decides that he wants to come back and he's interested in fighting me, which he is, that's going to be my No. 1 pick.
"But in hindsight I would like to fight both of them. I would like to prepare myself, get through Georges St-Pierre, shock the world once again, they say that I'm the best in the world, and then after that I would like to fight Nick Diaz as well. Because (after) those two fights, nobody can ever say I'm not one of the best welterweights on the planet Earth. If I knock out Robbie Lawler -- who was the goliath of the weight division, everybody was thinking he was so invincible and unbeatable -- and if I knock out GSP and Nick Diaz, I pretty much cemented myself in the UFC Hall of Fame."
While there is plenty of precedent for UFC beltholders calling their own shots -- look no further than new middleweight champion Michael Bisping choosing to fight Dan Henderson over a myriad of other contenders -- the irony of the situation has not been lost on Thompson, who said as much Monday on The MMA Hour.
Just over five months ago it was Woodley who was thrust into a similar circumstance as the one Thompson is in now, forced to campaign for a title shot and convince both the public and the UFC that he was the most deserving contender in the weeks after Carlos Condit fought to a controversial split decision against Lawler. However Woodley sees a few key distinctions between the two situations.
"He wasn't me five months ago because he hasn't been in the sport long enough," Woodley said. "You've got to realize that even before this, I was fighting top-10 competition in Strikeforce. Paul Daley was the ninth-ranked overall welterweight when I was competing against him, off of a fight (that was) one of the best first rounds in MMA when he fought Nick Diaz.
"Also, Wonderboy's words just bit him in the butt. I didn't put these words in his mouth. He said that Robbie Lawler would take this fight. He felt that the fans would want to watch Robbie Lawler fight against Stephen ‘Wonderboy' Thompson, that it would be a more exciting fight, that I would fade in the later rounds and he felt like Robbie Lawler was going to take it home.
"When he makes those statements, and you're not the pay-per-view buy, you're not the money fight, you're not the (guy who) people are going to be jumping off the wall buying pay-per-views to watch Stephen ‘Wonderboy' fight -- not to say in his career that won't happen, he's an exceptional fighter, he's beaten two phenomenal athletes back-to-back -- but when he said those words out of his mouth, he wrote a check his ass couldn't cash. So now he'll get his chance to fight Robbie Lawler and I'll go out and I'll prove I'm the very, very best in the world by fighting the Hall of Famers."
Mixed martial arts is inherently a selfish game, and the window for athletes to make significant money can be startlingly small. So while Woodley's words as champion have been divisive, to say the least, he hasn't concerned himself with the criticism from those who would rather not see him speak his mind.
"At the end of the day, I'm the one who's in control of my bank account," Woodley said. "I'm the one who's in control of my four kids, my wife, the house that I want to pay off this year. These things are realistic goals that are within reach with the right fight. So, I don't have to explain to them. I don't go to their house and say hey, I don't think you should get this promotion because Johnny, your coworker, deserves it more than you. I'm going to go tell your boss that I'm going to get this other guy the promotion. I don't do that.
"So with that said, I'm not taking away anything from Stephen ‘Wonderboy.' He's a phenomenal fighter. He's done a great job. He's not new as far as competition or youth, but he's fairly new to the higher levels of mixed martial arts. Think about when Johny Hendricks had beaten Martin Kampmann, Jon Fitch, (Josh) Koscheck, Carlos Condit, and what happened to him? Nick Diaz came along, he fought Georges St-Pierre because he was a bigger draw, a bigger name. The same thing happened to Rory MacDonald, the same thing happened to Frankie Edgar. We didn't see an immediate title shot against Conor McGregor, though he deserved it. We saw [McGregor] about to fight RDA, then after that he fought Nate.
"So when you get to this point, in my opinion, you can start calling some of the shots. Georges St-Pierre said he wanted to fight me, and I'm going to say yes."