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An underdog once more, Tyron Woodley says UFC 228 fight against Darren Till is ‘personal’

DALLAS — After a near 14-month layoff, Tyron Woodley is back, and if Wednesday’s UFC 228 open workouts were any indication, the reigning UFC welterweight champion feels like he has a point to prove this weekend against undefeated challenger Darren Till.

“It feels great to be back. It feels great to have an opponent that really thinks he wants some, to go out there and train and just have that mindset — this is personal,” Woodley said at UFC 228 open workouts. “I’m going to go out there and I’m going to send a message once and for all, and just go out there and do what I do best.”

Woodley, 36, is currently the third-longest reigning titleholder in the UFC today. On Saturday night, when he looks to defend his strap against Till at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, he will have held the belt for 770 consecutive days since he captured it with a first-round knockout of Robbie Lawler in July 2016. Despite that, Woodley has been the betting underdog for the majority of his title defenses, and UFC 228 is no exception — Till is currently the betting favorite on nearly all major sports books.

So it goes without saying that Woodley is used to people doubting him. And though he never explicitly mentioned the odds, it became abundantly clear on Wednesday that Woodley is feeling that same doubt once more, and is thus bringing a chip on his shoulder into UFC 228.

“The narrative consistently stays the same, and I think the way you change the narrative is you go out there and you kick ass and you take names, and you walk away,” Woodley said.

“It’s about to be intercepted — the storyline and what everybody thinks is going to happen is about to change once again. It’s always the case, and that’s why it’s personal.”

In Till, Woodley faces perhaps the most well-rounded challenger of his title reign. The unbeaten Scouser has risen to contention on the strength of wins over Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson and casts a massive shadow as a 6-foot-1 behemoth in the welterweight division, to the point where Till’s size has become one of the driving narratives behind UFC 228.

Till has badly missed weight twice in his Octagon career, including for his most recent win over Thompson, for which he tipped the scales at a hefty 174 pounds. The concerns over Till’s weight issues were so omnipresent that they played a part in the UFC enlisting Kamaru Usman as an official back-up fighter for UFC 228.

Till told reporters on Wednesday that he weighed 182 pounds that very morning. He explained that he weighed around the same on the Wednesday before his Cerrone fight — a fight for which Till ultimately tipped the scales at a trim 170 pounds.

Either way, it doesn’t matter for Woodley. The welterweight champion has made it clear that he intends to fight Till regardless of what number the scale reads at Friday’s weigh-ins, and he’s sick of talking about an issue that should only concern his challenger in the first place.

“I’m tired of answering questions for his weight,” Woodley said. “He’s the one who missed weight, he should answer questions about his own weight.

“I don’t really care. I can’t make him make weight, I can’t make him miss weight. The only thing I can control is — I haven’t seen his open workout, but I guarantee you he wasn’t looking as vibrant as I was. I guarantee you he’s not in the ‘70s yet, and I guarantee you if I get on the scale right now I’m in the ‘70s, and I’ve still got juice and I’m still ready to go. So that’s what I can focus on, the gameplan, the strategy. Whether he’s 170 or 179, I’m going to beat anybody who walks in the cage.”

Instead of worrying about Till’s weight, Woodley made it clear that he is only focusing on what he himself can control.

Till has largely been a respectful opponent in the lead-up to UFC 228, abstaining from much of the trash talk that other welterweights may throw Woodley’s way, but the Scouser has also spoken with absolute certainty and confidence, reiterating often how it is his destiny to become the promotion’s 170-pound champion. And Woodley is eagerly awaiting the chance to can prove how much Till’s unshakable confidence is misplaced.

“He can say whatever he wants, I can think whatever I want, you can think whatever you want, but at the end of the day, who’s better?” Woodley said. “Who’s faster? Who’s stronger? Who’s set more people down with one punch? Who’s the better wrestler, who’s the better grappler? Who’s had more experience against high-level opponents, world-class opponents? Who’s done the five-minute walk many, many times? You’re going to be looking at me every time you answer that question.

“The last time I fought somebody who was 5-foot-9 was (Josh) Koscheck,” Woodley continued. “So, 6-foot-whatever, his reach is basically the same as mine and he ain’t battle proven like I am. So, as I said once more, all these variables go in my tank so that gives me confidence. I don’t need a person to tell me, ‘Oh, he’s slowing down.’ Did it look like I’m slowing down? That’s what his coaches are telling him, I’m slowing down. His gameplan is based on me slowing down. What’s going to happen when I dart across the Octagon on Saturday and I’m in his shit asap? They lied to him. Now he’s gotta deal with that.”

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