He was supposed to be the one who brought old Tyron Woodley back.
It sounds odd now, but it was only a little over a year and a half ago that Woodley, 38, was the reigning welterweight champion. You can’t be blamed for forgetting. His title race ended unceremoniously with a one-sided beating at the hands of Kamaru Usman. Any hope that this performance was just one night away was erased when Woodley returned 14 months later and put on an equally flat performance against Gilbert Burns.
He offered little resistance by surrendering his belt to Usman and then showed no urgency in what should have been his comeback fight. His career clearly needed a spark, and what better than a match against a man who was skillfully positioned as his biggest rival – and biggest missed opportunity during his time as champion – Colby Covington.
A former training partner. A brash and arrogant disruptor. A proud MAGA representative. In Covington, Woodley had the yin to his yang, a clear objective to aim and shoot at. All he had to do was pull the trigger.
As we found out on Saturday at UFC Vegas 11, even with the antithesis of everything Woodley stands in front of him, “The Chosen One” was doomed to be empty. Don’t take anything away from Covington’s performance. If Usman and Burns laid out the plan for how to beat Woodley, Covington followed it to the start and arguably improved on it. Pour the pressure. Hit in volume. Support Woodley against the cage and never let him breathe.
Covington even did something Usman and Burns couldn’t – he finished Woodley. In doing so, he may have ended Woodley’s career as well, which he has been bragging about for ages.
It’s not a lack of ability that could potentially spell the end of Woodley’s career. He’s still in incredible shape and against Covington there have been fleeting glimpses of the fighter he once was. But his right to dynamite was still just short, his withdrawal defense a step, and his elite melee wasn’t enough to keep Covington away from him. These are gaps in his mental game, not in his skills. The kind that is much harder to fill.
Think about the level of psychic intensity you need to achieve to compete at the highest levels of MMA. Become world champion. To maintain that intensity, that instinct, for years. Think about having to learn to moderate it, to shut it down in order to be a functional member of society, a television analyst, a father. Then think about how it feels when the switch falls and refuses to come up.
It’s the kind of demanding lifestyle that drove Georges St-Pierre out of the sport for four years. That’s what keeps fighters like Daniel Cormier around for so long knowing that once you’ve made that final walk to the octagon, it might take the jaws of life to open the door again. the cage. By the first round of Woodley’s title defense against Usman, it was obvious that something was wrong, and 14 laps later, only Woodley can diagnose exactly what the problem is. All we know for sure is that this is a problem that cannot be resolved easily.
Even during his time at the top, there was a feeling that Woodley was aware of his own mortality. Rather than rack up his immediate crop of Championship challengers, he campaigned for fights with absent fan favorites “GSP” and Nick Diaz while posing as the greatest welterweight of all time. It was as if he knew there had to be a faster way to solidify his legacy rather than stacking title defenses against opponents that lacked traditional cachet. These clashes never materialized, and although Woodley did his duty and fought several legitimate contenders, he never seemed to get what he wanted.
At this point, you have to imagine that he just wants to put on another memorable winning performance before he closes the book on his Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately for Woodley, there is no obvious option for him to come out on a high note.
Maybe it’s the opponent who turns the rumors of Nick Diaz’s comeback into reality, but if his match with Covington was slightly past its expiration date, then a meeting with Diaz, 37, which never came to pass. not beaten since 2015, so could be expired. The same could be said of a rematch with Robbie Lawler, 38, which carries the potential for intrigue, but also even more desperation for fans who have had to watch the performances of these former champions erode beneath their feet. eyes.
So what? Feed him to a newcomer in case Woodley could be motivated to show he’s more than a keeper? It’s a stretch. Maybe a pairing with another respected veteran like Alex Oliveira, or Gunnar Nelson, or James Krause or – who am I kidding? There is little chance that Woodley is interested in rebuilding himself the old fashioned way.
Then there’s retirement, an option that’s sure to be brought up whenever Woodley’s name comes up in the news from now on. It happens to Lawler. Heck, this is happening to another veteran who fought on Saturday, Donald Cerrone. The suggestion is not a matter of disrespect; it is a question of pragmatism.
This is not the place to tell Woodley what to do. He knows as well as anyone how much of a meat grinder this business is, and how easy it is to go from prime beef status to moldy leftovers. It also means he’s well aware of the narrow selection of paths he has left to choose from after missing a golden opportunity to keep the road to yet another title shot open. It’s up to Woodley to figure out what’s next on this journey, or if it’s even worth making one.