Tyron Woodley has long been one of the most underappreciated champions in the UFC, but that could be starting to change after his one-sided rout of Darren Till at UFC 228.
Woodley blew the doors off of Till to retain his title with a second-round D’Arce choke submission in the main event of UFC 228. “T-Wood” is currently the third-longest reigning champion in the promotion, having retained his welterweight belt four consecutive times since capturing it with a hellacious knockout of Robbie Lawler in July 2016, yet widespread respect from the MMA fanbase has seemingly eluded him thus far in his career.
Negativity often follows any time an article regarding Woodley is written online, and even in Dallas at UFC 228, despite being matched against a foreign opponent in Till, Woodley was far from the crowd favorite at the American Airlines Center. One of Woodley’s main coaches, UFC veteran Din Thomas, has witnessed firsthand the struggles Woodley has gone through regarding his popularity among the MMA fanbase. Thomas attributes at least part of that struggle to blowback Woodley received for his last two fights — relatively dull affairs against Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia — but Thomas also believes UFC 228 could be the type of performance that could turn Woodley’s narrative around.
“I think that people are starting to realize,” Thomas said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Here’s what I think, I’m going to be honest with you, I think that people were just upset with Tyron. I don’t think that they ever didn’t think he could fight. I think they were just upset with him because they know what he’s capable of. I mean, up until the second Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson fight — Tyron was just tearing people up until that fight. Then those two fights, I think he just disappointed people and they were upset with him, and that’s when they started really badmouthing him. And the fact that he was coming out and just kinda complaining about his position in the game, I think that really just kinda exacerbated everybody’s view of him, and just, ‘You know what, we don’t like this guy.’
“But I think his performance on Saturday and his stance now that, ‘Listen, I don’t care who you put in front of me, I’m just going to fight,’ I think that’s what people want from Tyron and I think that’s what turned everybody’s opinion of him around.”
Thomas explained that although Woodley often dismisses his critics whenever asked, the reigning UFC welterweight champion is actually very attuned to way he is received by the MMA fanbase, and he’s had to go through a long process of accepting a difficult reality.
“It’s always affected him,” Thomas said. “There’s times where we had to take his phone away from him. It affects these guys. These fighters, everybody thinks they’re just these warriors and these animals, but fighters are some of the most sensitive people that you’ll ever see or ever meet, and it affects them. They get out there and they train their tails off and then get in the cage and they fight, they make themselves so vulnerable for the world to see, and then people just take that for granted and start talking trash about them, and it affects them. It affects them heavily.
“But I think now is a time where Tyron has matured, he has evolved as a person and a martial artist. He’s starting to become more mature and say, ‘You know what, this may be a time where I have to just give to the fans what they want, and that’s for me to just shut up and fight.’”
Thomas said Woodley used the entire situation as motivation for UFC 228.
“T-Wood” stated several times during fight week that his matchup against Till felt “personal.” The odds certainly played a part in that discussion — Woodley entered UFC 228 as the betting underdog for the third time of his four-fight title reign — but according to Thomas, there were much larger factors at play as well.
“He was bothered by it, but it wasn’t that he was underdog. That was never the case, because he’s been the underdog in the last four of his five fights, so that wasn’t the case,” Thomas said. “The case was really that he knew that — he felt kinda pressured into taking this fight. He knew that it wasn’t really the right time for him and it might not even have been the right fight for him, but he felt like he was kind of pressured into this fight, so he said, ‘You know what? I’m going to keep my mouth shut and I’m going to show the world what I’m made of.’ And that’s exactly what he did. That was exactly what he prepared for.
“He also, too, and this is one thing that I think helped this fight too, was that he understood what Darren Till was capable of and respected it throughout camp. Some of the other guys, with like Demian Maia or even ‘Wonderboy,’ it was like we knew that we had that puzzle to solve, but he never really felt like those guys could hurt him and put him away and embarrass him. But he knew that Darren Till, if Darren Till was able to get off, he knew that Darren Till could embarrass him. So he said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let this happen. I can’t afford to lose. The position I’m in now, the position that the world treats me, the way the UFC and everybody treats me, I cannot lose this fight.’
“I was saying that if Tyron loses that fight, he might as well retire,” Thomas continued. “He was in a do-or-die position, because they’re going to push him way to the back. If Tyron loses that fight, they would’ve never given him a rematch. He would’ve had to fight every top guy coming up. His next fight would’ve been (Kamaru) Usman and then Leon Edwards and then Santiago Ponzinibbio. He would never have been in a position to get back to that title, so he cannot lose.”