March 2, 2017

UFC 209: Tyron Woodley Is Fighting For More Than A Title

By Raphael Garcia

Tyron Woodley has talked himself into a dangerous spot at UFC 209. The current UFC Welterweight Champion is defending his title against Stephen Thompson for the second time in less than six months. In this main event bout the belt is on the line, but that’s not the only thing that Woodley is defending. He’s defending a platform that he’s placed himself on, much to the ire of MMA fans and leadership within the UFC. A win gives him the power to keep talking, but a loss forces him into a perceived position where he doesn’t have the power to continue pushing his controversial message.

Whether Woodley likes it or not, his openness about his thoughts on whether race plays into his likeability has caused him to be a major voice in the conversation about race in the sport. Since the interview on ESPN in which he laid it all out there, saying that he’s the worst treated champion of all time and that race plays a part in fan reception, Woodley is consistently asked about those comments. Not only is Woodley asked, but Thompson, UFC President Dana White, and other prominent black fighters have been asked a similar series of questions. This interview, and the issues it raised, is going to remain a talking point in Woodley’s career, making keeping the title even more important for the Ferguson, Missouri native.

For years Woodley has been outspoken about wanting the opportunities and big-money fights that are becoming the norm in mixed martial arts. Fighters, especially champions, are no longer as eager to face the top challenger to their titles; instead, they look for opponents that will draw bigger attention and bigger payouts. Woodley has been doing the same thing, but for much longer. And in doing so, Woodley has sparked hatred from some fans. Dana White compared him to Conor McGregor, yet used the term “drama queen” to denounce the 170-pound champion:

“The thing is with Tyron: First of all, he’s a smart guy, he’s a good looking kid, he’s explosive, he’s got knockout power, but he’s a bit of a drama queen,” White said while speaking with ESPN Radio. “He wonders why he shows up at a press conference, (and) the whole crowd is booing him. They’re not booing him because he’s black. There’s tons of black guys fighting in the UFC. It’s Tyron. If you look at the guy, he’s the perfect specimen, he’s the perfect athlete that you can get behind and promote until he shoots himself in the foot by doing that type of stuff.”

Woodley responded with a funny dig at White, but he needs to do the talking in the Octagon on Saturday night. He was the underdog going into the Thompson matchup at UFC 205. He’s also the underdog at UFC 209. In fact, he’s been the underdog in his last eight fights. In the title bout at UFC 205, Woodley excelled in key moments in a fashion that many people didn’t expect. At UFC 209, he has to go well above that and cement a win over Thompson in order to be able to keep calling for bigger matches and keep shining a light on the struggles he’s faced as a black fighter. With a win he keeps that title and keeps his platform. Without it, he loses much of the opportunity to get the kind of coverage and exposure that he’s experiencing now. Fans don’t really want to hear what he has to say now; without the title, most of the cameras and microphones will definitely go away.

Tyron Woodley goes by the name “The Chosen One” as he’s believed for a while that he’s destined for the place he’s earned as champion. But as he heads into his second title defense, he has to pull out a victory to silence his doubters. While a win may not convince the fans to see his side of things, if he leaves the Octagon without his belt, they really won’t care about anything he has to say.

UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2 takes place March 4, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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