The 29-year-old talent understands why Saturday night’s battle with the British knockout artist is a three-round affair and not a five-round event where the winner walks out with 12-pounds of gold around their waist. He gets it. But that doesn’t mean he likes it.
“I kind of know what the promotion is trying to do,” says the 8-0 University of Missouri alum. “In the event that Paul Daley pulls this fight through, I think they might have a problem with him winning the belt right after losing the opportunity for the belt. If I win, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me beating him and having the belt, but they can’t just say let’s do it this way.
“I understand what the concept is. Do I think its fair? I didn’t think it was fair for KJ Noons to come over and just jump in the ’70s and fight (for the title). I didn’t think that matching Nick Diaz up with Mayhem Miller or “Cyborg” was fair. I think fair is really out of the window.”
His frankness and frustration about the situation is easy to understand. While a host of other fighters have moved up and down in weight to challenge Diaz for the welterweight championship, Woodley has been languishing on the sidelines, inactive since earning a unanimous decision victory over Tarec Saffiedine.
Just as he understands why Strikeforce has chosen not to make this a non-title affair, Woodley also knows why analysts and experts keep asking him about his near eight-month layoff. No matter how diligent you are in the gym, you can never quite duplicate what happens in the cage when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling.
“I’m not worried about that at all. I’ll get the ring rust off in the warm-up,” Woodley offers with a laugh. “When its time to go, I’ll be ready to go. I’m well-prepared, man; I’m in amazing shape. I’ve been pushing hard and my body is responding well which is the biggest thing. A lot of times, a lot of injuries and the knick-knack things that get to you are during training camp. So for me — knock on wood — I’m just blessed that I’m in great spirits still, I’m training hard, and I’m in a really good place right now.”
The state of his career mirrors his state of mind as his fight with Daley draws closer. The two-time All-American is recognized as one of the top prospects in the sport, and he knows that a victory on Saturday night is capable of taking his career to new heights. It’s something he’s been patiently waiting for over the last year, and Woodley says he’s ready to take the next step.
“I know that from now on, it’s going to be me having to bust my butt, going out there and putting everything together to beat whoever it is. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m actually excited; its given my training a lot of purpose.
“I don’t have any easy fights left,” he continues. “I want guys that are good at something; either ground, or ground and striking or wrestling. For me, it’s about continually evolving as a fighter. Continue developing my hands, sparring with good pro boxers; good guys that can rough me up a little bit and help me fight through those wars. I think at the end of the day, it’s all uphill from now.
“All those little pieces that you have there. I might have submitted this guy, knocked this guy out, winning a war with Nathan Coy, and had a chess match with Tarec. Now it’s time to put all those components together in one fight every single time I get out in the cage. I think that’s the best Tyron Woodley, and I think that’s a guy that’s going to be a world champion reigning over the division.”
Woodley’s first opportunity to show his full arsenal is Saturday night against Daley, who is easily the most accomplished and experienced opponent of his career. The thing with stepping in against a fighter with as many high profile bouts under his belt as Daley is that there is no shortage of film to review in preparation, and it’s clear that Woodley has done his homework.
“He’s probably like 80-something-percent for his knockout percentage. Of his 27 wins, 20 of them are knockouts, so he comes out there and gives the fans what they want to see. To be honest, he doesn’t have very many holes or gaps in his striking, especially in his stance. He keeps a super-tight stance, so it’s not very wise to just come out throwing crazy punches. Once you get close to this kid, everybody knows what his abilities are, how he can put guys down with power.
“It’s just being cautious; keeping your hands glued to your face is a no-brainer. Not engaging in a complete slugfest and trying to prove that I can throw with him or take shots, I think that’s silly. Everybody who’s done that — you watch (Martin) Kampmann, (Dustin) Hazelett, Scott Smith — everyone who has engaged him in a slugfest, he’s been the victor in all those, so it wouldn’t be wise for me to get in there, stand in front of him, and start throwing crazy. Diaz is the only one that succeeded with that game plan, but he got dropped twice in the process. He’s just a tough kid that can take a punch like nobody’s business.”
Having watched the Diaz-Daley fight from the front row and done his due diligence with hours of fight film, Woodley has developed a healthy respect for his occasionally disrespectful opponent and is solely focused on the task at hand.
“This kid was one fight away from fighting St-Pierre. He fought Diaz. He fought for the world title in BAMMA; if he’d made weight it would have been for their world title. He’s been in these high anxiety situations so often that I can’t be thinking about who they’re bringing in next.
“I’m going out there to win this fight. I’m going to dominate. I think the fans deserve to see me on all cylinders, and I’m training to go out there and run through him like a Mack truck. Whether it’s striking, submit him, take him down; 15 minutes of me just putting myself through hell to get the victory at the end is what I’m going for.
“I’m not going to fight Paul Daley’s fight,” Woodley states firmly. “You have to realize that when you compete — when the stakes are this high — you have to go out there and pick apart your opponent. You have to be able to dominate, you have to be able to endure, you have to be able to press through. He calls out all these strikers, all these guys that are going to sit in front of him banging, having a cock-fest. For me, I’m going out there to win this fight. I’m going to dominate.”
Winning is key and eventually claiming the welterweight championship remains the ultimate goal, but competing is about much more than titles and ticks in the win column for Woodley.
“I’ll be honest: I fight for my family, I fight for what represent, I fight for my supporters. So when I go out there, it’s about more than just me. It’s the people that are watching me. It’s about the kids that are out there that are lost and looking for something to get them off the streets.”
This will be the last time Woodley flies under the radar, and he plans on capitalizing on the chance to introduce himself to a larger audience for the first time.
“Obviously, the eyes are going to be on this fight, and that’s great for me. When they see me go out there and put it on Daley on the 30th and I give God glory afterwards, that message I send across is going to really keep my fans I have, get some of his fans, and get some news fans.”
Though he’s not fighting for the welterweight title on Saturday night, Woodley knows a win over Daley will bring him one step closer to reaching that goal. He also knows that being a champion is about more than what you do in the cage and a 12-pound gold accessory.
“The next person holding this belt needs to be somebody that can push the brand, who can also market themselves, and give [the fans] exciting fights. I think I’m a guy that can do all of the above.”
A victory this weekend in suburban Chicago will send a clear message that Woodley is capable of backing up his words. It will also prove what he’s known all along: his shot at the title is long overdue.