The night before UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley laid a one-sided beating for the ages on upstart challenger Darren Till, UFC president Dana White was asked by a BT Sport interviewer why Woodley isn’t the star he probably should be.
“Tyron Woodley is good-looking, has the perfect physique, he’s got the record and he’s got knockout power in both hands,” he said. “But every time Tyron Woodley opens his mouth, he shoots himself in the foot. He’s a very unlikable guy to fight fans. Till is the exact opposite. When you’re from England, and you’re in the United States and in Texas, and they’re booing the American guy and cheering the English guy, I think that sums it up and says how the fans feel about you. So it’s the way Tyron Woodley has always been, and the way Tyron Woodley will always be, win, lose or draw.”
That last phrase sounded like for all intents and purposes, White has given up on Woodley. It marked only the latest time White has publicly criticized his 170-pound champion. There was also the time White claimed Woodley was “full of s--t” for claiming he may fight Nate Diaz, even though reputable outlets confirmed the UFC did explore the option. And the time he ripped Woodley’s marketability, asking, “Who wants to pay to see Tyron Woodley fight again?” Or the time he claimed Woodley “seems like he chokes in the big fights.” All this coming from the guy who is paid to promote him, a head-scratching phenomenon that has little in the way of big-picture purpose for the UFC or a fighter in position to headline its events.
For one night at least, Woodley completely silenced all of his critics, including the man who is perhaps their leader. In an evening that saw Tatiana Suarez maul Carla Esparza while out-landing her 136-12, an exceedingly dominant performance seemed improbable. Yet Woodley somehow did it. He shot himself out of the corner at the opening bell of the UFC 228 main event and proceeded to annihilate Till for all nine minutes and 19 seconds the fight lasted. During that time, Woodley blasted Till with 74 punches, kicks and elbows; Till landed only a single strike.
It was a performance that left the fight world awed.
So what was White’s reaction? We don’t quite know. White left the arena without speaking to the media, a development that drew laughter from Woodley when he was told of it. Of course he did, he was probably thinking. It is, after all, rare for White to attend a UFC event but skip out on post-fight press conference, particularly after a showing as strong as UFC 228.
“I just focus on fighting,” Woodley said with a shrug.
Still, White cannot ignore what he saw with his own eyes. Hopefully, the spectacular performance serves as a reminder of who Woodley is and what he can be for the promotion. It’s not as if he’s been a boring decision-machine in his UFC tenure. In his nine Octagon wins, he has six finishes. He has produced knockdowns in each of his five UFC title matches. Perhaps it’s time to admit the negative reaction to Woodley’s previous fights was an overreaction.
At this point, his excellence cannot be denied. He has not lost a fight in four years, and has solidified his grasp on the championship by taking out four of the top seven divisional contenders. With four successful title defenses, he has the most of any reigning UFC champ, and his divisional reign has arguably surpassed that of Hall of Famer Matt Hughes. That leaves him just behind Georges St-Pierre on the all-time welterweight list. Yes, he is that good.
Maybe now the UFC can rally its marketing machine behind him, something that should have already been a no-brainer. Woodley is one of the few UFC fighters who has managed to build some buzz for himself outside of the fight world. He has his own weekly show on TMZ Sports, The Hollywood Beatdown, he’s appeared in or has scheduled roles in nine films since his 2015 acting debut, and on Saturday, he announced the release of a single with hip-hop superstar Wiz Khalifa.
This is a man with vision and reach, integrity and character, yet White and the rest of the UFC brass have mostly thrown up their hands and struggled to promote him in any meaningful way. Perhaps that comes to an end now. With his victory, Woodley almost assuredly sets up a a title match against Colby Covington, a talented yet controversial fighter who has often straddled and sometimes crossed lines by using gay slurs and xenophobic language. In most sports, that kind of behavior is punished, but while the UFC claimed to be “not very happy” about Covington’s verbal diarrhea, he served no penalty and instead was rewarded with a recent trip to the White House.
When White sees Covington, he sees dollar signs. When White sees Woodley, he sees a problem. That is absolutely backward, and hopefully, Saturday served as a reminder of which guy is playing which “role” in the coming show between them. The champion is a consummate professional, one that should be appreciated and respected, whether you’re a fan in the last row or the person signing his checks.