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It’s sort of odd that there still is no real consensus about Tyron Woodley’s legacy.
For the first time in almost four years, the UFC’s welterweight belt won’t be on the line when Woodley steps into the cage during UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Saturday night. His fight against Gilbert Burns is a big one for the 170-lb. division, to be sure, but after Woodley lost his belt to Kamaru Usman last year in decisive fashion, there’s no real push for him to get another shot at the title.
A win keeps Woodley relevant at the top of the division, though, the same way he has been since at least 2013 when he knocked out Josh Koscheck.
Seven years of being among the best in the world – and three as welterweight champion – is pretty exceptional. For Woodley, though, he was always aiming to be the best ever.
That personal goal is the only thing that makes what he has accomplished feel underwhelming.
“I never had the motivation just to make it to the UFC. Some fighters, and you can’t knock them because it’s something you should be proud of, if you make it to the UFC, very few people make it … but that wasn’t enough for me,” Woodley said this week from Las Vegas. “Being a champion wasn’t enough for me. It got to the point where I wanted to be the greatest welterweight of all-time.
“Now, I want to change it to where no matter who they put in front of me and no matter what the situation is, my performance is so dominant that I don’t have to talk, I don’t have to beg, I don’t have to ask, but the respect is given automatically.”
That pursuit of respect has always seemed to motivate Woodley. On his way up the rankings, he always believed that beating the best guys should be enough to earn him a title shot. Once he knocked out Robbie Lawler, he called for superfights against the best in the business, regardless of weight class.
That rubbed some people the wrong way, but even as he was asking for cross-division, big-money opponents, it’s worth remembering that Woodley remained remarkably active and fought the welterweight division’s No. 1 contender five times in less than three years.
Usman was the only one to beat him.
But that loss to the current champion was a bad one. It was thoroughly one-sided and left little to be debated. Not the sort of fight that left any questions that a rematch to answer.
“I felt like I had everything in a position to win, so I really had to deal with that. It took some time. It took longer than any other fight in my career,” Woodley said. “I got to the point where I faced it head-on. I felt like I’m a better person, I’m a better fighter, I’m a better human being because of it. I feel like it was necessary for my journey.”
The next step of that journey begins Saturday at the UFC Apex, a purpose-built production facility that the UFC opened last year in Las Vegas. It will be the company’s American home for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems.
Burns is a tough opponent, albeit one with significantly less experience against top contenders than Woodley.
Between the two of them, there’s no question that Burns gains more with a win Saturday night than Woodley does.
But for a man as invested in his own legacy as Woodley, though, a victory will secure him a little more time at the top to get a few more big wins on his resume.
That might not be a championship belt, but it’s not nothing, either.
A few weeks ago, it seemed like a no-brainer that the UFC would book Jon Jones to go up to heavyweight and fight Francis Ngannou. It just made too much sense not to do it.
Now, though, that incredible matchup seems almost impossible.
Jones and UFC president Dana White have been having a verbal back-and-forth this week where they seemingly have been contradicting each other’s accounts of the brief contract negotiations.
Jones initially explained that the UFC shut down his request for more money before the negotiations ever started, but White fired back on Thursday in an interview with ESPN.
“(Jones) has never wanted to move to heavyweight before and for the amount of money he’s asking for, it’s not going to happen,” White said. “He couldn’t be asking for a more absurd amount of money at a worse time.”
Naturally, Jones took to Twitter to offer an alternate version of events.
“It’s interesting to just sit here and watch your boss lie to the camera like this,” Jones wrote. “We never discussed any increase in pay. Immediately, the conversation was that I already made enough. I never made a number offer.
“If you’re not going to change my contract for the heavyweight move, at least have the decency to be honest with the fans.”
Who knows where the truth lies in all of this, but ultimately it is just incredibly disappointing that a fight as fun as Jones-Ngannou is unlikely to get booked any time soon.
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