Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight knockout artists Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson will clash once more TONIGHT (March 4, 2017) at UFC 209 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Woodley won his title following a lengthy layoff, but it now appears that time away from the cage really helped Woodley put it all together. Since returning to competition, Woodley and his brutal right hand have been sharper than ever, allowing him to capture the title via knockout and nearly retain it in similar fashion opposite Thompson in their first battle. Meanwhile, Thompson put together his win streak by improving the holes in his grappling and allowing him to showcase his masterful striking. Following their draw, Thompson knows precisely what he needs to accomplish in order to win, as well as why it’s so important to avoid the right hand.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 201), Carlos Condit (UFC 171), Kelvin Gastelum (UFC 183), Dong Hyun Kim (UFC Fight Night 48)
Key Losses: Rory MacDonald (UFC 174), Jake Shields (UFC 161)
Keys to Victory: Woodley’s combination of a monstrous right hand and powerful wrestling game have proven to be very difficult to deal with. In a way, he’s a bit of a throwback to the classic Welterweight wrestle-boxer, except Woodley is a far more terrifying athlete.
Outside of the first round, Woodley struck with his foe for the vast majority of the following four rounds. Obviously, if he can score a takedown like in that opening frame, he should do so, but Thompson was pretty consistently able to shut down most of Woodley’s shots.
With that in mind, Woodley’s strategies will be stand up focused. Opposite “Wonderboy,” Woodley often did well when he chose to exchange, but he often waited and allowed his opponent to land without throwing much in return.
While looking for his right hand, Woodley needs to stay busy with his jab and low kicks. These techniques are more difficult to counter and require less energy, allowing Woodley to at least partially keep up with Thompson in terms of strike count. Additionally, both worked well for Woodley last time when he did throw them, and giving Thompson something to think about aside from the right hand will help that big shot land.
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC Fight Night 89), Johny Hendricks (UFC Fight Night 82), Jake Ellenberger (TUF 21 Finale), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Thompson is perhaps the best karate striker in UFC history. He manages distance extremely well and is dangerous both while attacking and countering. Plus, his takedown defense and general defensive grappling have come a long way, as even elite wrestlers like Woodley and Hendricks had difficulty dragging him to the mat.
Last time around, volume won Thompson three of five rounds. With Woodley allowing himself to be trapped against the fence, Thompson scored with straight punches and avoided most of his opponent’s return shots. On the whole, Thompson won the majority of the exchanges, aside from two major moments.
Volume is key here as well, but avoiding his opponent’s bursts of offense is equally vital.
The first came in the opening round, when Thompson threw a low kick with little disguise and was quickly taken down. Thompson can and should kick — his low kicks were very effective later in the fight — but he cannot hand away a takedown so easily, particularly early on. That single kick allowed Woodley to dominantly take a round without having to work particularly hard.
In the fourth round, Thompson was stunned by a counter and then fell into the tall man’s problem of watching his opponent blast him with an overhand. It will be impossible to fully avoid Woodley’s right, but Thompson would be wise to circle and kick more when Woodley gets his back off the fence. It’s not difficult to walk Woodley back to the cage, so “Wonderboy” can afford to retreat and regroup before attacking once again.
Bottom Line: It’s time to finally settle this and determine who is the best Welterweight in the world.
Woodley came damn close to finishing Thompson last time, and he also gained 25 minutes of experience with the Karate fighter’s unique range. If he can seal the deal this time around, Woodley cements his hold on the crown, as well as setting himself up with potential money bouts opposite Conor McGregor or Georges St. Pierre.
There are also legitimate title challengers like Demian Maia to consider, but the UFC seems to have little interest in those as of late.
Similarly, Thompson can snatch up Woodley’s big money opportunities if he makes the necessary adjustments and captures the strap. There’s also real potential for Thompson to become a star himself, as Thompson packs a unique style with some really slick finishes.
At 34 years old, neither man is in a great position to bounce back from a loss, as time is likely not on their side. The stakes are high in any title rematch, but this one is particularly important.
TONIGHT at UFC 209, Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson will once again battle for the Welterweight title. Which man will leave the cage strapped with gold?