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UFC 228 Aftermath: Where does Tyron Woodley rate among all-time great welterweights?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC’s welterweight championship boasts one of the most impressive lineages of any of the company’s weight-class titles.

You can’t even begin to navigate the list without tripping over a present or future UFC Hall of Famer: There’s original champion Pat Miletich. There’s his most famous protege, Matt Hughes. There’s B.J. Penn. There’s Georges St-Pierre. There’s Robbie Lawler, who might or might not end up a Hall of Famer, but will surely have his legendary fight with Rory MacDonald inducted someday.

There aren’t too many names you look at and think “wait, that guy was champion?”

That’s the history of the division over which Tyron Woodley lords. And after he absolutely wrecked the previously undefeated Darren Till on Saturday night, who was somehow the betting favorite going into their UFC 228 main event at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, it’s time to debate his place among the great 170-pounders of all-time.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: St-Pierre is the divisional GOAT. He might even be the pound-for-pound GOAT. Woodley’s still got a ways to go to catch St-Pierre.

Put it this way: St-Pierre was so dominant in his five-year, eight-month second title run, that people have all but forgotten the runup to his first title reign, in which he steamrolled Jason Miller, Frank Trigg, and former lightweight champ Sean Sherk, then decisioned B.J. Penn, before mauling Hughes to claim the belt. Woodley’s still got awhile to match such a legacy.

Last night, I ran a Twitter poll asking where Woodley ranks. As of the time of this writing, with around 600 votes, the majority of you have T-Wood pegged as the second-best, behind St-Pierre and ahead of Hughes, and those folks just might be right.

Yes, Hughes was both a dominant champion and a key player in helping get the UFC over to the masses. But the game moves on. For each legendary Hughes win, like UFC 63 over Penn and UFC 52 over Trigg, there seem to be two Gil Castillos and Renato Verissimos.

Woodley, for his part, has reached year three of his title reign with a sublime mix of smarts and athleticism, an ability to match his game plan to the best route to defeat his opponent, and a fearlessness toward public opinion on whether or not that game plan is crowd-pleasing.

His first fight against Stephen Thompson, a majority draw at UFC 205, was an honorable mention of MMA Fighting’s 2016 Fight of the Year list. When he had to change up to a decidedly less-crowd pleasing style to get past Thompson in the rematch, he didn’t hesitate.

That fight with Demian Maia last year? It got Woodley booed out of the building, but it also completely shut down one of MMA’s greatest jiu-jitsu players, who had come into the bout on a seven-fight win streak.

Then there’s the Woodley who went right into Lawler’s wheelhouse and knocked him out in short order, and the guy who steamrolled Till last night.

A smart fighter who is capable of being exciting, executes the best available game plan, and does what it takes to maintain his longevity at the top? Kind of sounds like I described GSP there, no? So maybe it’s time for Woodley’s most stubborn detractors to admit he belongs on the short list.

UFC 228 quotes

“I found the right moment to connect good strikes and show I’ve evolved in the muay thai area. I was really well. I came out uninjured, so I think I was able to show everyone my evolution.” -- Jessica Andrade on her first-round knockout of Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

“All the greats have lost. That’s my first loss tonight and just right now I’m still okay, but I’m just upset. There’s no sugarcoating it.” — Till, on the loss to Woodley

“It don’t take much more for me to solidify that spot. But if [GSP] wants to fight me, of course I’m gonna fight Georges St-Pierre. I just don’t think he has to, I don’t think he has any interest in it and I’m kind of over it at this point.” -- Woodley says he doesn’t need to beat GSP to be the best all-time welterweight.

“My thing is, I’m gonna fight anybody. I’m the best in the world, anybody they put in front of me, they’re gonna get beat up. If it’s Colby Covington, if it’s [Kamaru] Usman, if it’s Robert Whittaker. Whoever they want me to fight, we’re gonna do it.” Woodley on future options.

Stock report

Up: Tatiana Suarez. Ponder this, for a moment: The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native’s first amateur MMA bout was on Feb. 8, 2014, nearly a year after Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche broke down the doors for women to fight in the UFC with their landmark, epic UFC 157 encounter. As Suarez, the TUF 23 champion and two-time bronze medalist at the wrestling world championships, absolutely clobbered a UFC and Invicta strawweight champion in Carla Esparza last night, all I could think was that the next generation of elite women’s fighters are on the rise: the fighters inspired by trailblazers such as Rousey, Miesha Tate, and those who came before them. And just like the men’s side of the sport evolved beyond Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock faster than anyone could have imagined, it’s a joy to watch this progression on the women’s side of the sport as well. Especially when they’re led by a competitor as ferocious as Suarez, who looked like a female Khabib Nurmagomedov in mauling Esparza for 14 minutes, then getting the finish when she could have coasted for the decision. The next generation is here and Tatiana Suarez leads the way.

I have seen the future, and her name is Tatiana Suarez.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Up: Jessica Andrade. But lest we put Suarez on the fast track to Rose Namajunas’ strawweight title, let’s take a moment to appreciate the fireworks display Andrade put on Saturday night. Andrade stated her case in the strawweight divisional picture with a one-punch knockout of the always-tough Karolina Kowalkiewicz. It’s almost mind-boggling, in hindsight, to consider that Andrade started her UFC career fighting two weight classes up, at bantamweight. That she was above .500 at 135 pounds is a testament to her skills. In the meantime, on a night it became clear that strawweight is one of the deepest divisions in the sport in either gender, Andrade made it abundantly clear she’s still near the very top of the mix.

Down: Darren TIll. We’ll say this for Till: He’s certainly as tough as they come. The beating Till absorbed from Woodley in the second round would have made most grown men cry, and yet he managed to hang in there long enough that Woodley had to change the plan of attack and take the submission when it was there. This could be one of those situations like St-Pierre’s first fight with Hughes or Henry Cejudo’s first bout with Demetrious Johnson in which the challenger got the title shot a little too soon, and then took the information, regrouped, and then worked his way back to a title shot and the championship within a couple years. Or this, on top of the weight miss for the Stephen Thompson fight in Liverpool, could also be a sign that Till should go up to middleweight sooner rather than later. Either way, while you shouldn’t write Till off, it’s clear he’s going to have to take a step or two back before he moves forward.

Up: Abdul Razak Alhassan. Somewhere along the way, we’re going to have to see how Alhassan fares against the highest-level grapplers in the welterweight division. Until then, let’s marvel in the awesome power this guy has in his fists and his fearlessness in using them. Niko Price made the mistake of charging right after a fighter who had all his previous victories via knockout, and Alhassan made him pay with a finish that will be shown on highlight reels for some time to come. Time to give Alhassan the step up in competition he plainly deserves.

Up: Jim Miller and Diego Sanchez. If I was going to give everyone who shined at UFC 228 a nod, I’d still be writing this column on Monday. So here’s a quick nod to Zabit Magomedsharipov for his slick kneebar; Geoff Neal for his Mirko Cro Cop-like head kick of Frank Camacho; and Irene Aldana and Lucie Pudilova for their killer battle which truly earned Fight of the Night. But let’s finish this section of the column with a nod to two old-school favorites who delivered a rare jolt of feel-good moments. Miller, in his record 30th UFC appearance, channeled the fighter everyone’s grown to admire of the years with relentless forward pressure leading to a trademark submission finish of Alex White. Sanchez, the TUF 1 champion who was fighting on the same card of the TUF 23 winner (Suarez), was vintage, full-on crazytown Diego in smothering Craig White for 15 minutes in a manner reminiscent of his 2006 Fight of the Year win over Karo Parisyan (look it up on Fight Pass, kids). Maybe this was just a one-night deal in turning back the clock, but even if that’s the case, they set the tone for a night to remember.

Interesting stuff

Woodley’s second-round performance against Till made this matter moot, but we still have to point out referee Dan Miragliotta’s questionable decisions to twice order restarts in the first round of the main event. True, both fighters were clinched along the fence, but each time, both competitors were working -- in the latter case, Till had reversed position on Woodley before the call was made. I appreciate wanting to give the fans action, but Big Dan was a bit too fast in pulling the trigger on this one.

Beyond that? No complaints here. While it’s become fashionable to slog the UFC for everything and anything -- if it rains out, someone is going to jump on Twitter and blame Dana White -- and I’ve certainly done my share of slogging, the UFC has delivered one hell of a summer of memorable moments, from Whittaker-Romero 2 to Daniel Cormier’s knockout of Stipe Miocic to Dustin Poirier vs. Eddie Alvarez to UFC 227’s two title thrillers to Justin Gaethje’s knockout of James Vick. On paper, UFC 228 looked like it might be the one to break the string, but Dallas delivered one of the very best fight cards of 2018. Let’s enjoy riding this wave while it lasts.

Fight I’d like to see next: Tyron Woodley vs. Georges St-Pierre

Woodley vs. Colby Covington would be big money for all the wrong reasons. Woodley vs. GSP would be big money for all the right ones. It’s not often, in these divisional GOAT debates, that we get the opportunity to settle matters in the cage. Yes, it’s true that this wouldn’t quite be the same as Woodley vs. the 2010 version of St-Pierre. It’s also true that the contrarian Woodley and the equally stubborn GSP himself don’t seem to want the fight for their own reasons. But there are only so many giant-money fights out there, and a win over GSP would not only help Woodley’s bank account in a way no other opponent can, but it would also give the champ to state his case on the highest level.

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