When the judges decision was announced for the UFC 205 contest between Tyron”The Chosen One” Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, the world took a collective sigh.
The majority draw decision left Woodley dismayed on his first welterweight title challenge and left fodder for those critical of MMA’s first “stay woke” champion. Now all that was left in MMA’s historic appearance in Madison Square Garden was doubt over Woodley’s ability to finish and Thompson’s apparent resilience in the bloody battle.
So when it was announced that the two would battle again in a rematch, fans rejoiced, with most believing that Thompson will finally put the finishing touch on Woodley’s championship career. This opinion has even spilled into the betting odds, with Woodley as the underdog champion (+140) and Thompson (-160) the favorite. With UFC President Dana White running the media circus, calling Woodley a “drama queen” who needs to finish Thompson to become a “stud champion”, Woodley is definitely not MMA’s favorite champion.
In their first fight, Woodley did a great job at being patient and not getting himself into terrible positions. He found a home for his big right hand on several occasions and showed that he had a strength advantage in the clinch. The biggest issue was his lack of Octagon control. Often criticized for coasting during matches and giving bursts of explosive, fight-ending power, the first fight with Wonderboy was no different. Woodley spent a lot of time with his back against the cage, rarely attempting to move from that position. Although he did unleash the occasional striking combo to push Wonderboy back, it is a dangerous position to rely on.
Clearly, wrestling is Woodley's advantage, as he is a former NCAA Division I standout at Missouri. in their first pairing, it only took round one for Thompson to catch the bad side of a lazy kick resulting in a Wonderboy takedown. Woodley’s hesitance to attempt the takedown consistently and put himself into a position to be kicked was noticeable.
Wonderboy was able to stay at range and slowly pick apart Woodley with his kicks while occasionally countering with some effective combos with his hands. Wonderboy’s karate-based style seemed to cause Woodley issues, but it also left Thompson open to the counter right that rocked him so hard in the fourth. His stance naturally leaves Wonderboy’s hands low, and with a right hand as deadly as Woodley’s this can cause a major problem.
Still outside the cage is where the real battle is ever present for Woodley. Disrespectful betting odds aside, he has been at war with the way he is promoted as a champion. Constantly citing the UFC’s promotional push of Thompson as the resilient challenger over Woodley’s life of overcoming obstacles to become champion bother him deeply. However, Woodley has a point.
As a Ferguson, Missouri native and the eleventh of thirteen children, Woodley was raised by a single mother. In high school, he was on the honor roll every term, received All-Conference honors in football and was a two-time state finalist in wrestling, finishing 48-0 and winning a state title. After graduating high school, he had offers from Nebraska, Northern Iowa, and Missouri for wrestling. Eventually, he decided on Mizzou and eventually graduated with a major in Agricultural Economics.
He is married to a beautiful black wife and together they are entrepreneurial parents of four children. Add the movie appearances and vocal stance when Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson in the mix and this is not the typical champion MMA is used to. Woodley wants some “respeck” put on his name and deservedly so, however, the world of MMA has never wanted to be involved in the socio-economics of the world at large. It merely respects one thing: money, and if you can make it in pay-per-view sales and tickets sold, you are the favorite.
Woodley’s take on the MMA business is just background noise for White and the machine that would rather use the fan base loathing of Woodley’s consciousness to boost Thompson. If Thompson wins, it further places Woodley in the visage of a crybaby and not the “stud champion” he should be. White clearly takes his talking points from the Donald Trump playbook of polarization, and Woodley, now a champion, sits at the crossroads of greatness or failure in the designed narrative.
Regardless, Woodley should know there are millions of fans rooting for him tonight and regardless of victory and betting odds, he has championed something else never before seen in MMA: consciousness.