August 2, 2016

UFC 201: Even After Tyron Woodley's Title Win, Durability Questions Remain

By Raphael Garcia

Mixed martial arts is an interesting sport because of unforeseen outcomes that usually shock fans and experts alike. The UFC 201 main event saw such an outcome, as Tyron Woodley was able to dispatch Robbie Lawler in epic fashion. After blasting Lawler with a right hand, Woodley became the UFC Welterweight Champion at just 2 minutes and 12 seconds of the first round. This added yet another quick victory to Woodley’s resume, but it raised questions as to whether he will be a long term champion.

Woodley’s win on Saturday was knockout win number six for the Ferguson, Missouri native. Of those six knockout wins, five of them came in the first round. (The sixth, Woodley’s second-round TKO win over Carlos Condit at UFC 171, isn’t a true factor in this conversation because Condit suffered a knee injury that forced the fight to end.) Of his five submission wins, all but one of those occurred within the first frame as well. So the question for his career, now that he has the belt, becomes “what happens to Woodley’s championship reign if he fights an opponent he can’t put away quickly?”

Looking back across Woodley’s career raises some compelling considerations. Seven of his 19 fights have gone to decision, including three in the UFC. He earned a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183, and lost fights via decision to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, two fighters that are known for their ability to frustrate opponents and take them out of their games. In these fights, we observed that if an opponent can last past the first round, Woodley’s gas tank takes a major hit, which adversely affects his ability to deliver those fight-ending shots.

This brings the conversation to two men: Nick Diaz and Georges St. Pierre. Both of these names were mentioned by Woodley as who he would like to fight next, as he is looking for “money fights.” Yet their styles are exactly the types that have posed problems for Woodley in the past.

On one hand, you have a competitor that is known as one of the best MMA fighters and best MMA wrestlers of all time in GSP. His ability to implement strategy has negated such wrestlers as Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks, and Jon Fitch. In fact, his track record shows an ability to limit the strengths of everyone that’s stepped into the Octagon with him.

Diaz is another tough test for Woodley. At 32 years of age and with 35 professional fights under his belt, Diaz has only been stopped once in his career. That TKO stoppage, awarded to KJ Noons in 2007, was due to a bad cut and doctor intervention. Diaz’s rangy volume striking would be a serious concern for Woodley, especially if the fight extends past the first round.

Woodley’s big win pushed him to the top of the welterweight division. He bet on himself and sat out for an extended period of time to get the shot at the belt that he believed he deserved, regardless of the contrary thoughts of others. The first-round stoppage victory allowed him to become the seventh new champion in seven months. It’s a great story for Woodley. However, the story now becomes whether or not we’ll see the best of Woodley if and when he’s tested to the full extent of the time allowed in the Octagon.

UFC 201
Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley (UFC Welterweight Championship): Tyron Woodley def. Robbie Lawler via KO (punches) at 2:12 of Round 1.

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UFC 201: Lawler vs. Woodley took place on July 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

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