March 6, 2017

UFC 209: The Win That Wasn't For Tyron Woodley

By Raphael Garcia

Tyron Woodley may have earned a majority decision victory over Stephen Thompson to retain his UFC Welterweight Championship at UFC 209, but this win, in the eyes of some, was a damaging one. Woodley’s title reign has been a struggle, for both him and the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a whole. Woodley’s controversial comments and performances turn fans off, which hurt the bottom line of the UFC’s entertainment-first model. Walking out of UFC 209 with the belt was the goal for “The Chosen One,” but it will be interesting to see the impact that this title defense has for both man and company in the months to come.

The outcome of Saturday’s main event was due to the work of two men, but much of the blame will fall onto Woodley’s shoulders. Much of that stems from the slow, calculated nature of Woodley’s work in the cage. Thompson’s counter-based offense is centered around the need for fighters to be aggressive, creating openings for him that allow him to pile on strikes, leading to a finish. Styles make fights, and the pairing of these two fighters created the fight that fans watched on Saturday -- two men being cautious with their output in an effort to deter each other from taking advantage of any opening. A sound strategy to be sure, but a controversial one when involved in a sport that calls for the violence level of mixed martial arts.

Now, the UFC has to work to push a champion whose list of unfavorable attributes in the eyes of fans continues to grow. Woodley is a sound strategist who knows how to use his high intellect in the fight game. But that isn’t what draws in fans. Coupled with his penchant for speaking on the topics, like race, that irk the mainstream MMA fan base, the UFC and Woodley have their work cut out for them. It will be interesting to see how UFC President Dana White deals with this situation. In some ways, it seems as if he was leaning towards “Wonderboy,” and he even went on record saying that he thought Thompson did enough to get the win. Yet another moment in recent memory in which White has gone directly against his current champion in a public manner.

The commentary following this fight from fans and media hasn’t been favorable to Woodley at all. As champion he’s still positioned to get bigger paychecks due to fighting in title bouts. But his performance in the Octagon didn’t do his brand, which he’s very protective of, any justice. During the post-fight press conference Woodley was much more mindful of his word choice than in the months leading up to this bout. But it’s very tough to repair an image, and even though in sports winning is usually enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. In the aftermath of UFC 209 many fans were vocal about their desire for Woodley to lose his title.

The UFC doesn’t want to be saddled with yet another champion that isn’t the draw the company needs. However, Tyron Woodley is in a dangerous position that could put him in a predicament similar to that of Demetrious Johnson, a champion people aren’t willing to pay to see, no matter how dominant his performances. Woodley walked out of UFC 209 with the title that he covets, but even after his first true title defense, is still missing a “champion’s moment.” And that doesn’t bode well for Woodley gaining the championship respect that he covets just as much.

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

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