The Tyron Woodley debate – great tactician or boring?

The dust has well and truly settled from UFC 214 now. The event was a great success. A stacked card full of interesting fight delivered. Three title fights supported by competitive fights on the main card made excellent viewing. However, there is one issue that stands out further than others moving forward. Tyron Woodley overcame Demian Maia in a unanimous decision victory. Woodley performed conservatively to say the least landing only 57 strikes in the 25 minute fight. It certainly brought the relationship of implementing a game plan and entertaining the crowd to the forefront. Was Woodley right to perform the way he did?

Maia has been on a roll in the UFC scoring three submissions in his last five fights. He has put together a winning streak of seven after suffering back to back defeats in late 2013 and early 2014. the game plan was clear from the Brazilian fighter. He wanted to get Woodley to the ground and choke him out as that has been his weapon of choice for a long period of time. Taking Woodley down is not easy. The champion is a big strong man and can use this to his advantage when his opponents shoot for a take down. Maia has been able to do this to good fighters in the division. An example of his excellent ground game came when he disposed of Carlos Condit with a performance of the night award in August 2016.

Being presented with this information Woodley’s training camp almost exclusively featured drills and training on take down defence and it showed. This is something that all fighters do. They look at their opponent and their strengths and will develop a game plan which nullifies it. If the take down was achieved by Maia it is more than likely that he would have left the champion.

The issue here is that Woodley seems to have focused more on the strengths of his opponent than his own. At welterweight Woodley carries great power and striking ability. The amount of strikes he threw was well under what you would expect. The quality of the fight led some fans to shine their phones and wave them in unison with other audience members it was that unattractive to watch.

This is a similar kind of scenario the boxing world has faced with Floyd Mayweather who has one of the best unbeaten records of any boxer in the history of the sport.

The unbeaten boxer still faces critics. People say that his fights are boring and he runs from his opponents. Mayweather has unbelievable defensive skills and hardly takes any punishment. His talent is a direct representation of the mantra preached by many famous boxers and coaches to win the fight and take as little damage as possible. Here we have the greatest practitioner of this philosophy and the majority of boxing fans do not resonate with him. Fight fans ideally want to see the two fighters go toe to toe and see who is left standing. That is not the point of either boxing or MMA.

Woodley or ‘the Chosen One’ as he is known in the UFC finds himself in a similar dilemma. He was very defensive at UFC 214 and it led to a spat with Dana White who said that you have to sell tickets as well as win championships. The UFC is not comparable with boxing. The two sports are completely different due to the fighting codes. Boxing is certainly less brutal which leaves Woodley in a worse position than Mayweather. ‘The Chosen One’ is competing in a different discipline, one that fans expect more action and excitement, that is a box he is not ticking at the moment.

Before this fight Woodley took on ‘the Wonderboy’ Stephen Thompson twice after their first fight, which was awarded fight of the night at UFC 205, ended in a majority draw. Even though this fight won an award for its quality in both fights with Thompson, the champion Woodley was again conservative with his attacks. The second fight saw Woodley perform better and take the win, but again was defensive. 

It is certainly a difficult place to be for Woodley and the UFC. Fans will not buy tickets if they are not entertained. If Woodley was to headline an event would it get good numbers? It would be interesting to see, but the UFC will not take that risk. There is no need to. There are big names being linked to a fight with Rafeal dos Anjos saying he’s coming after him, which would be a great fight.

MMA is a sport that attempts to marry numerous fighting disciplines together and find out which will come out on top. Perhaps Woodley is developing his own style, designed to stop his opponents strengths and just do enough to win the fight. He is a frustrating fighter as there is so much more he could offer fight fans. But at the end of the day he is still the champion of his division and his preparation and analysis of who he faces is always spot on. He may be facing critics at the moment but his ability in the octagon is not questionable. He will silence his critics and is likely to continue to succeed.

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Alan Brown

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