Back in May, Tyron Woodley suffered a bad loss to Gilbert Burns, one painfully reminiscent of his five-round title defeat to Kamaru Usman. The two teammates implemented roughly the same gameplan, expertly capitalizing on Woodley’s long-standing habit of backing himself into the fence.
After that loss, I wrote in-depth about Woodley’s predicament, about the trials and tribulations about having a gameplan proven to work against him as public knowledge. Even while well-aware of the issue, Woodley could make no forward progress.
The article ended with the following:
It’s a conundrum of mixed martial arts. Even while fully aware of what needs to be done, what needs to change, flaws are rarely fixed. Once a blueprint is revealed and other fighters take notice of this path to victory, it is almost always permanently devastating to that fighter’s career and his ability to win future fights.
Woodley is the latest to find himself in such a miserable situation.
Opposite Colby Covington, the match up was something of an ultimatum for Woodley: he must overcome the odds and change, or else find himself embarrassed, soundly defeated by a man he despises.
There were no other options.
Unfortunately, Woodley — like most every other veteran fighter set in his ways after more than a decade in the sport — could not change. He could not help but back himself into the fence and proceed to lose another five straight rounds. He would visibly try to light a fire under himself at times, but Covington would promptly kick him in the stomach or jam him back into the fence, restarting that negative reinforcement loop and convincing Woodley to shell up further.
There is a certain poetic symbolism about Woodley eventually falling to a rib injury in the final round. A broken champion falling with a yell of pain and frustration, betrayed by his broken body as well as his mind. At least, there would be, were it not just vaguely sad to watch.
Though he’s always proven respectable both as a person and representative of the sport, I have never been a particularly big fan of Tyron Woodley fights. I’ve never thought his back-into-the-fence style made much sense, even as a champion, when it was working as intended. I picked against him in every single title fight, simply because I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept. Alternatively, I may not like Covington’s awkward antics, but I do greatly appreciate his fantastic chain wrestling and endless gas tank.
Yet, the main event was not a fun viewing experience. There was no tension, no drama in the air. After the first round, the rest of the fight felt like a forgone conclusion. Even as the injury officially ended the contest, the fight was over many minutes previous. Without any compelling or even sporting element to the domination, all that was really left was melancholy.
I felt bad for Tyron Woodley, watching him broken by yet another opponent. The unpleasant feeling in my stomach reminded me of Jose Aldo’s final round against Petr Yan, in which the former champion hopelessly tried to resist a reality that was already here, already delivering more damage. There was no glory to be found nor lesson to learn.
Is there any hope at all for the future? Even if Woodley is matched against someone woefully unprepared to capitalize on his flaws, it’s still incredibly difficult to envision Woodley shaking off the mental trauma of these three losses and performing well again.
I hope he can.
For complete UFC Vegas 11: “Woodley vs. Covington” results and play-by-play, click HERE!