If there wasn’t much of a rivalry between Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman before UFC 235’s kickoff press conference, that certainly changed on Thursday night.
Woodley and Usman meet on March 2 in the co-main event of UFC 235, where Woodley will look to make a fifth consecutive defense of his welterweight title. And at the first press conference this week in Las Vegas to promote the event, it became quickly apparent that there is plenty of heat simmering between the two 170-pound standouts.
“You better not come in 30 percent,” Woodley told an already fired-up Usman after an exchange between the Nigerian challenger and Woodley’s coach Ben Askren, who also was on the dais for his fight against Robbie Lawler. “They’re going to need an ambulance.”
The gloves were off from there, as Woodley and Usman engaged in a fiery back-and-forth that lasted close to seven minutes uninterrupted.
“Oh, it’s all good, playboy. I ain’t bringing 30 percent for you,” Usman shot back. “Hey, you know what I always say, man? I have the biggest shovel out here. When it comes down to digging, can’t nobody dig as hard as I can dig. So you know what, T-Wood? I want you to bring your best game. Best your best game.”
“Who have you dug against? Who have you fought?” Woodley replied.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Usman.
“It does matter. You can’t use your shovel in water. What have you done?” Woodley answered.
Woodley (19-3-1) is currently the longest-reigning champions in the UFC today, with a reign that spans three years and began with a devastating first-round knockout of Lawler. Since that time, Woodley has fended off two different challenges from Stephen Thompson, bested jiu-jitsu savant Demian Maia, then submitted previously-undefeated Englishman Darren Till with a flawless performance at UFC 228.
But safe to say, Usman hasn’t been impressed with what he’s seen from the champion.
“Listen, anybody can put their head down and throw a haymaker and pray and hope it lands,” Usman said. “Easy. That’s all you is, that right hand, that right hand.”
“I’m top-three for the most knockdowns in welterweight history, and I think I have the fastest KO, flat-out,” Woodley responded. “How many people have you knocked out in your career?”
“Same as you, six,” said Usman.
“No, don’t fool yourself, brother,” answered Woodley. “How many people’s consciousness have you stolen? You’ve stolen none. Nice try. Bruh, I’m your mentor. You’re talking back to your mentor right now.”
“Hey, it don’t matter,” Usman replied. “You could feel like a big brother all you want, but at some point big brothers gotta get their ass whooped too. ... March 2nd, we’re going to see. When you hear ‘and new,’ you’re going to feel real special when you’re walking backstage.”
“You don’t even believe that yourself,” Woodley shot back. “You want to be so cool. You want to sound like LL Cool J. You don’t even believe it yourself.”
Usman (14-1) has a commendable résumé himself.
The 31-year-old “Nigerian Nightmare” effectively leapfrogged interim welterweight champion Colby Covington in the 170-pound pecking order after racking up a perfect 9-0 record under the UFC umbrella. That run includes victories over ranked foes Leon Edwards, Maia, and Rafael dos Anjos.
But in Woodley’s eyes, the hungry young challenger isn’t anything the champion hasn’t already seen before.
“You know what’s funny? Darren Till said the same thing, didn’t he?” Woodley said to Usman. “Darren Till sat over there and said the same thing. He said, ‘It’s time for the young lion.’”
“But I’m not Darren Till. You know that,” responded Usman.
“Guess what? And I commend him,” Woodley continued. “Because he took many an elbow upside the head.”
“I’m not Darren Till,” Usman repeated.
“It ain’t gonna take that many,” continued Woodley. “What you gonna do? How you gonna beat me? … I’m from Missouri, I’m from the ‘Show Me State.’ What you gonna show me?”
“After I take that belt from you, you know what I’m gonna tell you in your ear?” said Usman. “I’m gonna tell you just like this: ‘You’ve been a good champion. You’ve been a good champion, T.’”
“Oh my God, here comes LL Cool J,” Woodley said, chuckling. “… Let me get my chapstick.”
At one point, Woodley and Usman traded jabs about an encounter years back where Usman asked Woodley what it felt like when UFC president Dana White wrapped the belt around his waist. At the time, Woodley told apparently Usman, “You’ll know one day” — but the 36-year-old UFC welterweight champion vowed that March 2 would not be that day.
“What you going to do better than me?” Woodley asked. “You going to out-wrestle me? If we get in the Octagon and I can throw no punches, no knees, no takedowns, no submissions, I would kick your ass in just wrestling, flat-out. When it comes down to striking, I would knock you out, flat-out. When it comes down to grappling, I would break your arm, flat-out. There’s nothing you can beat me in.
“I’m faster than you, I’m stronger than you, and I promise you that if you come at less than 100 percent, you will reconsider fighting every day of your life.”