Tyron Woodley is UFC 161's 'Fighter To Watch' in Winnipeg

Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com

Strikeforce veteran, Tyron Woodley, will make his second appearance inside the Octagon TONIGHT (Sat., June 15, 2013), looking to build another win streak after having one snapped by Nate Marquardt in a Strikeforce title in July 2012. Even at 31, Woodley continues to evolve as a fighter, developing in such a way that he may be primed for a run at the top of the welterweight division with a victory over the former No. 1 division title contender.

For years, the style of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Tyron Woodley was fairly well known -- he would get the fight to the ground and then do whatever he wanted. With tremendous athleticism and a strong offensive wrestling game, this was more than effective for him, starting out his mixed martial arts (MMA) career with five straight submissions, including three under the Strikeforce banner.

As he started to face tougher opponents, however, the finishes began to stop, while the predictable gameplan remained the same, drawing the ire of many MMA fans. This frustration with his long, tedious fights against opponents who could not get off their backs, was understandable, especially in the case of his gifted decision win over Jordan Mein in Jan. 2012.

But, for the most part, he's done all he has to as a fighter, which is do whatever it takes to win.

The aforementioned "victory" over Mein was what put Woodley in line for a shot at Strikeforce's vacant 170-pound title against Nate Marquardt in July 2012. In a valiant effort -- one that saw both parties take huge advantages over the other -- Woodley went down in the fourth round following a violent flurry of elbows Marquardt unleashed along the cage.

The devastating loss, in perhaps the biggest fight in his career, is the intrigue in regard to how he may progress in the near future. Against Marquardt, he was either unable -- or unwilling -- to bring the fight to the ground, forcing the two men to have what was mostly a striking affair, which certainly leaned in Marquardt's favor. Regardless, Woodley made it a close fight, first with a beautiful counter in the first round and later on in the third stanza with a forward-pressing attack against the cage, both of which had Marquardt very near unconsciousness.

In a fight he wasn't supposed to be much competition at all for the seasoned veteran Marquardt, Woodley made sure he was not to be taken lightly. His striking had shown huge signs of development, and while he was still fairly raw, he gave a very skilled fighter nearly all he could handle. Though Woodley showed some very clear flaws in the fight -- namely his inability to angle off and keep his back of the cage -- he also proved that he is not inept in the stand up.

His follow up performance against Jay Hieron at UFC 156, which marked his Octagon debut, lasted little less than 40 seconds, but it confirmed that Tyron Woodley continued to improve his striking game. From square one, his movement seemed much more fluid and relaxed than it had against Marquardt. And the punch that led to the end of the fight was very similar to the flurry that found him success in the third round against Marquardt.

This bout was impressive not only because of how quickly he finished his opponent, but because of who he was finishing. Hieron is no world beater by any means, but he has been very effective at keeping his chin safe, as Woodley's knockout was only the third time in his 30-fight career he had been finished with strikes. And his previous knockout loss was way back in 2009 at the hands of Jason High.

It isn't out of the realm of possibility that Woodley will still look to enforce his wrestling as his main focus in the future, but for now, he is showing notable improvements in his striking game, as well as a tendency to leave the fight standing. His opponent tonight (Sat., June 15, 2013), Jake Shields, at UFC 161, which takes place at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is a crafty veteran with good wrestling and a great submission game.

Therefore, it is likely that Woodley would once again show his more developed striking game in this fight.

With a solid wrestling base on which to fall back, Woodley has the potential to become a force in the welterweight division if he continues to make significant striking strides. His athleticism and skill are already there, and with a more honed, well-rounded game, he could find himself among the likes of Top 10-ranked welterweights in the very near future, which is the reason he is UFC 161's "Fighter to Watch" tonight in Winnipeg.

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