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Tyron Woodley believes ‘nervous’ Kamaru Usman trying to ‘reassure’ himself going into UFC 235

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES — As far as UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley is concerned, Kamaru Usman’s projection of confidence heading into their UFC 235 co-feature bout is actually an attempt at convincing himself he can win, when he doesn’t really believe it himself.

“He says a lot of stuff and sometimes when people talk too much, they’re trying to reassure themselves,” Woodley said Monday at a media event promoting Saturday night’s card in Las Vegas. “You haven’t heard me talk about Usman.”

The way Woodley sees it, other opponents he’s faced over the years had, on paper, a clear potential path to victory, a riddle for Woodley to solve, from Dong Hyun Kim’s judo to Stephen Thompson’s kickboxing to Demian Maia’s jiu-jitsu and so on.

But he doesn’t feel Usman, unlike previous foes, has any sort of on-paper standout area.

“I just wanted Usman to tell me how he’s going to beat me,” Woodley said. “‘Cause like I said before, Dong Hyun Kim is a judo master who wasn’t a striker. You look at guys like [Stephen] Thompson. Thompson was knocking out ... Robert Whittaker fell victim to him, a lot of guys did. And [Usman] doesn’t bring that specialty in any category.”

Usman, who brings a 13-fight winning streak into his welterweight title shot, including victories in all nine of his UFC fights, comes from a strong wrestling pedigree, including the 2010 NCAA Division II wrestling title at 174 pounds while competing for Nebraska-Kearney.

But Woodley was a two-time Division I All-American at Missouri and he cautions against conflating Division II-level grappling with Division 1.

“Yes he was a Division II NCAA champ,” Woodley said. “I’m not taking that away from him, but please do not act like that is Division I NCAA champ. It’s a different concept, it’s a different mentality, and it’s a different thing. So when I am competing with guys like [Josh] Koscheck who is a two-time NCAA Division I champion that scored zero takedowns, that had better striking, I just wanted him to really tell me how he’s going to win the fight.”

Add that all up, and you realize why Woodley, who has not lost in five years, seems more concerned about worrying about his own thing leading into the fight than whatever is coming out of his opponent’s mouth.

“I looked at his feed, ‘18 days, 17 days,’ like, I’m working,” Woodley said. “I’m planning my [rap album] release party, I’m training, I’m getting my game plan down. I don’t have to talk a lot because I’ve done it already. I’ve done it, I’m not going to stop doing it, and he just has not shown me that he provides the recipe or the cure to beating me that everyone else supposedly has.”

At the end of the day, Woodley believes Usman’s show of bravado is more for himself than anyone else.

“He sounds so confident and I know you all want me to do the LL Cool J impersonation, but he sounds so cool that when people are doing it, they’re nervous,” Woodley said.