UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley is currently facing a lot of criticism following his lackluster performance against Demian Maia at UFC 214. The fight even broke the record for the lowest number of significant strikes delivered (57) in a title match.
Dana White earlier said that the winner of Woodley vs. Maia will get the Georges St. Pierre for the next title fight. Soon after the fight, he did u-turn stating that middleweight champ Michael Bisping will face GSP next. Fans’ reaction to Woodley’s fight is said to be the reason for this turnaround.
Most fight fans lashed out on social media calling it the worst title match ever in the welterweight division. Despite earning the wrath of fight fans, title holder Woodley has the support of a few who call this a smart fight (!) just like the second one he had against Wonderboy.
With all that being said, the real question is – Is it that much of a sin to fight defensively?
Expectations of Fans
The welterweight division of the UFC is home to some of the craziest fights ever displayed. I ranked Lawler vs. Condit as the best title fight of 2016. Lawler vs. MacDonald 2 is one of my favorite fights of all time. Some people accuse GSP of not being much of a risk taker. Still, he had some epic brawls during his long reign as the champion.
Fans expect that kind of fights from their champions. When title fights get boring, they get irked. During the Woodley vs. Maia fight, fans in the arena did more than just booing. At one point, they switched on their cell phone lights and started waving in the air (maybe as a sign of protest?). I have never seen something like this happen during a fight.
Fans also want their champions to fight often (at least twice a year) and put up a good show. Woodley did one thing right though. In the last 12 months, he was part of four title fights. He defended the title thrice against number one contenders. Most champions don’t do that nowadays. I do respect Woodley for being a standup guy who fights anyone who deserves the title shot. I also admire his grit in not looking for a padded record.
Even with all this credit, he is still one of the most hated champions in the UFC. His constant pulling up of the race card is one big reason. The other reason – his fights are getting boring recently. He takes up risky fights and somehow turns them into boring fights.
Smart or Boring
Of late, Tyron Woodley has become too defensive in his quest to hold on to the title for a long time. He is no longer the contender who was once hungry for a title shot. Woodley may not be the most entertaining of fighters, but his earlier fights weren’t boring either. His first title defense against Wonderboy is proof of that.
Woodley is not someone with a limited skillset. He is indeed a well-rounded fighter. He might even have the best knockout power in the welterweight division right now. As a champion, he is entitled to play smart against a specialist fighter like Maia. Sadly, it got to a point where the fight turned into a snoozefest.
As Dana pointed out in the post-fight press conference, Woodley had the power and skills to finish someone like Maia. It is true that most guys who tried to take risks against Maia ended up tapping out. As a strong grappler himself, Woodley can even risk a takedown or two from Maia unlike other strikers in the division. Still, he chose to play it safe and that didn’t go well with the fight fans. His only credit in the fight at UFC 214 was that he successfully defended 23 takedowns.
I am not a fan of Dana White, but I see his point. It is not particularly good when fans no longer want to see you fight. PPV buys are vital for a good pay day. Woodley vs. Thompson 2 was a similar “smart” fight that failed to impress the audience. Now with this performance against Maia, Tyron Woodley has become a risk for the UFC to headline an event.
This kind of fights might help him hold on to the championship, but it is likely to cost him the opportunities that he desperately seeks.