The way UFC welterweight Tyron Woodley tells it, he is the complete champion: He’s a well-spoken ambassador who has the look - the sort of physique that contributes to a charismatic “it” factor and draws plenty of attention when scoring explosive knockouts. The pressing issue for Woodley in the octagon, though, is that he’s not, in fact, the champion.
How his UFC 171 co-main event contender showdown with former interim champ Carlos Condit goes down on Saturday night will play an integral part in whether or not Woodley earns the right to call himself a championship fighter.
"I hold him in a higher regard than most welterweights," Woodley tells Maxim of Condit, during a media lunch in Los Angeles. "In my opinion, of all the guys I watch, he's probably the most enjoyable. He's the only fighter I've ever been excited for."
Woodley admits he got tears in his eyes when he found out his campaign to fight Condit was successful. “The Chosen One” sits outside the UFC’s list of top-10 welterweight fighters, so he knows how much he can advance with an upset against Condit. The task, however, is far from an easy one.
"I like his ability to give the same kind of fight every time,” he enthuses. “He comes out like a crazed maniac. He can last as many rounds. He always comes on in the later rounds, later in the fight. Guys like that will make you train hard."
Woodley’s respected opponent has ended 93% of his matches in victory in his 12-year career, making one of the most remarkable stats in MMA. “The Natural Born Killer” is 29-years-old and considered the second best welterweight in the world behind Hendricks, the favorite in Saturday night’s clash for the vacant belt.
"Everybody was like, ‘How did he get this fight?’ Then they saw the matchup,” laughs Woodley. “Nobody really made a big fuss about me getting the fight. They could have went, ‘Oh he's ranked 11th in the world, how did he get this fight?’ Nobody said that because they said, ‘Damn, this is gonna be a crazy fight!’ For me, the road has already been planned. All I have to do is train as hard as I can and fight as hard as I can."
Woodley has long been on MMA’s elusive “future champion” list due to his two-time All-American NCAA Division I wrestler status from the University of Missouri. He came up short of a title in the defunct Strikeforce promotion, losing to Nate Marquardt via fourth round TKO in the summer of 2012, and even though he’s 2-2 in his last four bouts, Woodley’s resounding knockouts have bestowed upon him this fortuitous contender opportunity. He became the first person to stop NCAA Division I National Champion and former UFC title challenger Josh Koscheck, and that Knockout of the Night performance required less than five minutes - it was the first stoppage Koscheck had suffered in 25 career contests, 23 of which were in the UFC.
Woodley posted a 2-1 record upon arriving in the UFC in 2013, and it’s not only taught him just how much he wasn’t ready be a champion in Strikeforce, it’s taught him that his time has come now that he’s in the UFC.
“I think now I’m honestly ready for that position, to be the champion, to be one of the best fighters in the world," he enthuses. "Really, I think our weight class is the best weight class, the deepest weight class, so if I'm the champion, at the best weight class, pound-for-pound, I'm probably one of the better fighters in the world."
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