With Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson off the table, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight king Tyron Woodley will be left to hold down the fort later tonight (Sat., Mar. 4, 2017) at UFC 209 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, when he defends his title opposite Stephen Thompson. The two previously met at UFC 205 this past November and fought to a majority draw in a very competitive affair.
This evening, the Woodley vs. Thompson rivalry will see Rounds 6-10. In order to sift through the impending action and determine what each fighter needs to do to capture Octagon glory at UFC 209, we take a look at the keys to victory for the champ and the challenger.
1) Early aggression...
Woodley had very good success with his power punches opposite Thompson the first time around. It may have surprised many that Woodley was able to quickly close ground and land his fists on the striker’s chin, but “The Chosen One” was able to inflict serious damage. In turn, he was able to control the fight and make Thompson come from behind on the scorecards.
In the rematch, Woodley would be wise to attack early and try to put Thompson on his heels yet again. Woodley has four first-round UFC knockout finishes to his name so the capacity to lean on his power and explosiveness early is certainty there. In many regards, giving Thompson the least amount of time to settle in and work out his issues from the first fight is the quickest route to victory for the champ.
2) More takedowns...
If Woodley isn’t able to find more success on the feet than Thompson does, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t lean heavily on his wrestling pedigree. He didn’t utilize this nearly enough in the first fight, but that’s because he had “Wonderboy” hurt multiple times and figured he could maintain production on the feet. That wasn’t the case, as Thompson started to find his groove later in the fight and score points from the outside.
As Thompson preps to unload more offense from the outer edges and push Woodley back against the cage, “The Chosen One” must be ready and willing to swallow his pride, pull back his punches and shoot in for a takedown. Thompson does train with former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman and has shown improved takedown defense in the past, but there’s no reason to believe Woodley can’t take him down, hold him there, score points and dictate every second of the rematch.
1) Early versatility...
While Thompson was more versatile in his attacks versus Woodley at UFC 205 than most fighters have been against the champion, his offensive production was mediocre at best when stacked up against previous performances. It just wasn’t the same standard that fight fans have grown to see come from the hands and feet of the infamous “Wonderboy” Thompson. Due in part to taking too much damage and implementing a reserved approach to stay away from Woodley’s wrestling, Thompson couldn’t find his rhythm until it was too late.
In the rematch, “Wonderboy” has to be aiming to throw more looks Woodley’s way and force the champion to react to more than he did in the first fight. This includes more spinning kicks, more forward combinations, more movement around the outside, more counter strikes, trickier timing and more level changing. If Thompson can establish these fixes early into the fight and overload Woodley’s defensive sensors he may be able to land at will by the championship rounds.
2) Control the cage...
It’s often hard for a striker to control the cage when the opposition is an ultra-talented wrestler capable of tying the action up at any time, but that’s exactly what Thompson has to hope for in order to dictate the pace and create his own fortune at UFC 209. While he landed in spots against Woodley in their first meeting, Thompson was the follower back in November. He didn’t lead the dance. He didn’t make Woodley react to him.
If he wants to experience a different outcome at UFC 209 later tonight, “Wonderboy” must do everything in his power to draw Woodley into his game. This includes attacking first, maintaining his distance to avoid counter takedowns, getting his back off the cage, limiting damage off his back, getting back to his feet and making Woodley pay for every shot he throws.
Prediction: Thompson via third-round TKO
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 209 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.