If Tyron Woodley never makes that walk to the octagon again, he can take comfort in knowing that his last exit came on the heels of a memorable performance.
Woodley fought on Saturday. That may sound like the minimum requirement that is asked of a professional fighter, but anyone who saw Woodley’s previous three outings had to have doubts that he was still capable of performing his job at even a rudimentary level. The narrative going into his fight with Vicente Luque at UFC 260 was that the Woodley who knocked out Robbie Lawler and tapped out Darren Till was now worn out. He’s been competing in wrestling and MMA for over 20 years and at some point, that warrior within was diminished.
When he lost the welterweight championship to Kamaru Usman two years ago, it could have been chalked up to him simply running into a younger, better fighter. When he followed that with an even less inspiring performance against Gilbert Burns, the red flags were evident. And when he finally faced off with longtime rival Colby Covington, his inability to even get out of the starting gate was not only a testament to Covington’s skills, but just how far Woodley had fallen from the ranks of the elite.
But again, Woodley fought on Saturday, and he did so with the vigor of a man 10 years his junior (while also facing a man almost 10 years his junior). He was aggressive right off the bat, throwing a wild punch that didn’t land to close the distance and immediately initiate the kind of wrestling attack that brought him to the MMA dance in 2009. Luque matched force with force, pummeling and doing damage in the clinch, but he felt Woodley’s power too.
Woodley connected with a big right hand and one was reminded of when that same strike floored Lawler and made Woodley the No. 1 welterweight in the world. He threw his signature weapon freely, letting his hands go with a zeal that he hadn’t shown in ages. He didn’t just wait for the action, he initiated and welcomed it even as Luque set him up for the finish.
A counter right sent Woodley scrambling. He stumbled across the octagon, grabbing onto the fence to steady himself. He fired back, but was soon overwhelmed by Luque’s precision striking. Luque landed clean shots over and over again, sending a fading Woodley to the canvas. Luque’s renowned killer instinct kicked in and he soon had Woodley tied up and tapping to a D’Arce choke.
For a little under four minutes, Woodley fought.
He’d lasted longer against Covington, Burns, and Usman, but there was something much more inspiring about Woodley fully realizing just how lifeless he appeared to be in those losses and doing everything in his power to change the narrative. It didn’t exactly work out, though for those still holding out hope that Woodley had the capacity to bravely go out guns blazing, they can’t have been disappointed.
Woodley and Luque won the UFC 260 Fight of the Night award, just the second time that Woodley has earned an extra $50,000 for that honor. UFC President Dana White praised Woodley for the effort, saying at the post-fight press conference, “Woodley, who takes a lot of criticism, that kid came to fight tonight and he went out on his shield tonight. He came in to fight.”
If only the evaluation had ended there. White was then asked if he’d like to see Woodley fight again and his response to that question was less enthusiastic:
“Listen, how old’s Tyron now? 39? That’s four in a row… yeah.”
A question of age (Woodley actually turns 39 in April). A reminder of his recent failures. A pregnant pause and a one-word response. UFC 260 marked the last bout on Woodley’s contract and it’s fair to say his future with the promotion isn’t looking bright at the moment. If that’s the case, the image of him valiantly chasing one more knockout is one that should be appreciated.
Woodley even admitted in an Instagram post afterwards that “Sh*t was going really well until it wasn’t” and that he “saw the opportunity for the KO and got too excited.” He knows what went wrong, which is a good sign; he also makes no mention of possibly retiring, a sign that is more open to interpretation.
I choose to view his comments and his performance in the most positive light. I see a fighter becoming fully aware of his limitations who, for at least one night, openly defied them for the chance to recapture his past glory. He lost and if he decides he still wants to compete, there could be more losses to come. If they’re like this one, he has no reason to be ashamed.
On Saturday, Woodley fought, which is something he hadn’t truly done in a while and something nobody can take away from him no matter what happens next.
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