By Michael Ford
Tyron Woodley is the world champion of a division that has long been considered one of the deepest and most talented weight classes in the sport -- the UFC welterweight division. Hall of Famers Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre are synonymous with this division's greatness, and Woodley, one would assume, hopes to carry on the tradition of greatness that these two legends established. Or does he?
The term "champion" comes from the Medieval Latin campio, or "fighter," and denotes "a person that has defeated or surpassed all rivals" in competition, according to the OED. In practice, it has come to mean not only the best, but one who is suited to represent the group of competitors he or she is the champion of. It very much has become synonymous with "standard-bearer." This is even more important in individual sports than team sports, because the best athletes are pushed to the forefront and shape the way that the mainstream fan views that sport at a given moment. And thus, it's no surprise that the champions of sport who do this well become the biggest and most marketable stars.
Which brings us to Tyron Woodley. He overcame the idea that he was a "boring" fighter in Strikeforce -- an idea that kept him out of a title fight with the promotion's meal ticket Nick Diaz -- as well as a devastating loss to Nate Marquardt in the first title fight he received. The way that he did that was by winning UFC fights in devastating fashion. However, his Octagon losses -- all by decision -- raised questions about his endurance that despite his thundering UFC 201 victory over Robbie Lawler remain unanswered. He's the new welterweight champion, but he has a lot to prove.
Conor McGregor play those roles well. And it's hard to say that anyone in MMA parlayed the ideals of class and professionalism into lucrative outside-the-cage opportunities better than GSP did.
Woodley, one must suppose, is trying to be more Mayweather than GSP, and that's a shame. Fans want to have fighters they can root for even more than they want fighters to root against. And in the case of Woodley, who hasn't earned championship-level respect, the negative attitude he elicits isn't going to earn him the truly big bucks that stardom should afford him.
last win was in October 2011, whatever contrivance the promotion bases the matchup on will be poisoned. From a competition standpoint, Woodley would be in a no-win scenario -- a victory over a past-prime, ring-rusted Diaz who didn't even deserve the shot, or a loss to him, which he'll never live down. How big does the check have to be for Woodley to justify that risk?
Clearly, of the two options, a matchup with Georges St-Pierre is ideal. Hardcore fans who have soured on Woodley will shower him with boos, and GSP will be viewed as a returning legend who never lost his belt. He'll be the sentimental favorite, and the path to victory -- survive Woodley's initial onslaught, then outlast him over the course of 25 minutes -- favors the Canadian. If Woodley can score that bout, he will definitely earn a big paycheck. If he can win it, he might just earn big respect. But regardless, because of the way he went about his business, he'll be hard-pressed to earn more fans. And that might cost him more "prizes" in the long run.