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UFC Fight Night: Woodley v Burns Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 11’s Tyron Woodley

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight king, Tyron Woodley, will attempt to rebound opposite bitter rival, Colby Covington, this Saturday (Sept. 19, 2020) at UFC Vegas 11 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s only been two losses, but Woodley’s fall from grace has proven quite the spectacle. Woodley’s last two opponents have utterly dominated him, winning 10 straight rounds against the man who once ruled the division for two years, which raises several questions:

Did Woodley grow old overnight? Did Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns take advantage of weaknesses that were always present? Are those two simply that good?

In all likelihood, it’s some combination of the three possibilities, but Woodley can provide some more ironclad answers with a strong performance opposite Covington. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Woodley’s approach to combat sports has never been particularly complicated. He’s always had two real weapons — the right hand and the takedown — alongside absurd physical attributes.

His strategy does not match with what one would expect of an explosive wrestler, as he is perfectly content to sit at range and wait for his opponents to come to him. He’s very patient at distance or against the fence, sometimes to a fault. Against men like Rory MacDonald and — bizarrely — Jake Shields, Woodley hung around far too long at the end of his opponent’s strikes, waiting for them to over-commit.

Instead, they simply beat him by volume.

Usman punished this habit further. Generally, fighters do not want to clinch with Woodley given his strength and wrestling, but Usman proved himself superior in both areas. As a result, Woodley found himself in a forced position of having to avoid the clinch, yet his footwork kept leading him back to the fence in a vicious cycle.

UFC 235: Woodley v Usman Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Burns capitalized less with clinch work, instead taking advantage of Woodley’s position along the fence to find openings. Woodley is generally quite defensively sound, but “Durinho” was firing power shots to the head, body, and lead leg. Stuck along the fence, Woodley was forced on the defensive.

Oddly enough, Woodley can actually be very effective even if his opponent doesn’t lead the charge. When Woodley is fresh and on point, he’s actively feinting toward his opponent with the threat of a sudden lunging right hand.

Woodley relies almost exclusively on his right hand to do damage. That’s not exactly textbook striking, but it’s a style that has worked repeatedly for numerous fighters. Basically, it all comes down to whether or not the fighter can set up his right, and Woodley has a few strategies to that end (GIF).

Much of the time, Woodley is using the threat of the takedown to land the right hand. That can be as simple as ducking low before throwing an overhand, but it’s not usually a single cause-and-effect with Woodley. Instead, Woodley changes levels and fires and repeats, forcing his opponent to attempt to keep up with the rapid threats of double leg and right hand. Often times, Woodley will also mix an uppercut into his offense, which can be disastrous for an opponent who ducks at the wrong time.

Besides springing into a sudden combination, Woodley does have some powerful kicks. Against most Orthodox opponents, Woodley sticks to the outside low kick, which is more than capable of knocking his opponent off-balance. Opposite Southpaw opponents, Woodley can open up more and kick to the head and body as well. Overall, his kicks are seriously hard, and a weapon he should definitely use more often.

If Woodley does convince his opponent to reach for him, he’s in great position to counter with his massive right hand. Whether he tries to slip and strike or block and return, Woodley’s counter right is his best weapon (GIF).

UFC Fight Night - Bisping v Le Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images

The counter right has earned Woodley most of his real knockout wins. Against Dong Hyun Kim, he simply watched the South Korean walk forward and try a spinning back fist without any rhyme or reason. Being a high-level athlete with good reaction time, Woodley effortlessly interrupted the slow spin with his fist.

Woodley’s brutal knockout win over Koscheck was a bit more technical. As Koscheck over-extended on his right hand, Woodley blocked but kept himself in position to counter. With his opponent out of position, Woodley was easily able to blast “Kos” into unconsciousness (GIF).

Opposite Thompson, Woodley’s right hand found its mark several times. At his best, Woodley was using the jab to keep Thompson honest, as “Wonderboy” would stand at the edge of Woodley’s range hoping to draw him out. As Thompson was forced to take greater risks to land, Woodley found the counter right hand more often. Additionally, even a striking master like Thompson has momentary defensive lapses, and it takes a great fighter like Woodley to identify those moments and land (GIF).

UFC 167: Koscheck v Woodley Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Finally, Woodley’s performance against Darren Till is likely the best of his career. Woodley frustrated the Englishman with his movement and clinch, completely nullifying him for the first round. Till was forced to up his aggression, but Woodley timed him with a perfect right hand, slipping his head off the center line and landing directly on the chin (GIF).

More than any other bout, Woodley was very active with his lateral movement against Till, rather than stationary along the cage. That can make all the difference in avoiding shots and landing counters, rather than falling behind on the cards.

Wrestling

Woodley has some majorly impressive wrestling credentials. As a two-time All American and Big 12 conference champion, Woodley is undoubtedly one of the most talented wrestlers in the 170-pound division.

In UFC, Woodley has only relied on his wrestling to any consistent success in one bout. Against Carlos Condit, Woodley really did fight well before the somewhat untimely end to the bout. Using his athleticism edge, Woodley was able to quickly bounce in and smash Condit with hard punches and land counter blows when the kickboxer tried to wade in with his own combinations.

UFC 171: Condit v Woodley Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In addition, Woodley made full use of his wrestling. Whenever Condit got especially aggressive or backed Woodley into the fence, he’d simply change levels and power double through his lanky foe. One of those takedowns eventually tore apart Condit’s knee, ending the bout (GIF).

In his two bouts with Thompson, Woodley was able to land two takedowns. Those takedowns won him a pair of rounds, but it also seemed to slow Woodley down a bit, as he did little else in the round after he wrestled.

Back in Strikeforce, Woodley’s wrestling approach was far more straight forward. Walking down his opponents and forcing him to shell up under the threat of overhands, Woodley would dive forward into double and single legs against the fence. From there, Woodley managed to lift and slam even the most stubborn foes, proving to be quite controlling from top position. In addition, Woodley showed a powerful clinch game, making it quite difficult to tie up with him for any length of time without being placed on the mat (GIF).

UFC 183: Woodley v Gastelum Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

One of the more interesting things about Woodley’s willingness to fight with his back to the fence is that it does affect wrestling exchanges. Woodley is largely unafraid to get taken down along the fence but having his back to the fence guarantees that his opponent does not. If Woodley is able to duck under a punch or catch a kick, he has about 30 feet of space to finish the takedown before his opponent can rely on the fence to remain standing.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A black belt under Ricardo Liborio, Woodley has won four fights via submission. All but one came more than a decade ago, so let’s focus on the exception.

After dropping and battering Till from within the guard, Woodley pulled off a pretty brilliant sequence to finish him. From half guard, Till secured an underhook with the hopes of returning to his feet. Instead, Woodley applied such pressure with his overhook that Till could not move. With his foe stuck in place, Woodley started dropping elbows.

When Till ducked his head, Woodley swam the arm deeper and locked in a d’arce choke.

UFC 228: Woodley v Till Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Woodley did also nearly secure a front choke opposite “Wonderboy.” After rocking the Karateka, he found his opponent’s neck and secured a deep grip, pulling gull guard and attempting the guillotine choke. Unfortunately, Woodley’s arm-in grip and choice to jump full guard made it a difficult submission to finish. Furthermore, Woodley attempted to finish by pulling through the arm-in guillotine, which is more difficult than sitting up into the choke (GIF).

Defensively, Woodley was nearly knocked out and still managed to fend off Gilbert Burns’ submissions from mount, which is quite an accomplishment.

Conclusion

UFC has decided there will not be a step back in competition just yet. Woodley once again faces a man who will try to capitalize on his worst flaws, that willingness to put his back on the fence repeatedly and an inability to fire back. However, Covington is perhaps more vulnerable while on offense than Woodley’s other recent foes, so perhaps Woodley can turn back the clock against the Southpaw.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 11 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 11: “Covington vs. Woodley” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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