It has been more than a year since Tyron Woodley lost the UFC welterweight title to Kamaru Usman at UFC 235.
Not only is that the last time Woodley competed in the Octagon, it was also his first loss since June of 2014, a span that included six victories and a draw, encompassing a title win and four successful defences.
Heading into his return, there could be a prevailing thought that Woodley is a massive favourite over the man he’ll face on Saturday, but the former champion does not exactly see it that way.
“I don’t really feel like that,” Woodley told TSN. “I feel like he’s on a five-fight winning streak, he just beat a top-five welterweight, he’s got power and great submission, strong and aggressive. I don’t really see it that way, I see it as all of the welterweights in the top-five are risky opponents and he just provides different risks than the other ones.”
Woodley believes that the amount of time he’s spent battling at the top of the welterweight division ultimately gives him an edge that Burns will not be able to overcome.
“He hasn’t had the opportunity to fight the guys I have,” said Woodley. “I’ve had the opportunity to fight world class guys, world champions, title contenders and guys of that nature, top-five welterweights. He just hasn’t been in the division that long and he’s just now getting to the point where he’s fighting, this will be his second guy in the top-five. In my opinion, I feel like I’m more experienced, I feel like I’ve been here longer and I feel like I have more tools than Demian Maia had to present for him. I don’t think he’s in over his head, but I think there’s levels to it and I’m on a different level.”
The 38-year-old admitted that he didn’t feel like himself on the night that he dropped the title to Usman and just couldn’t get going in the fight. Heading into his return, he has tried to keep things simple and block out anything that wasn’t going to help him achieve the goal of getting back in the win column.
“You never really know when it’s going to happen, because I had a lot going on before the Darren Till fight and a lot going on before the Robbie Lawler fight. I’ve had a lot going on before all of my world title fights, but sometimes you just have that moment,” said Woodley.
“I had one other time in my career when I fought Rory MacDonald, I just felt like I was just there, my body, I was telling it to go and it wouldn’t go. For me I just did everything within my power to try to block out all distraction, all negativity and just focus in, going back to the basics and anything that I really didn’t necessarily need to be doing at that moment during the camp, I just excluded. For me, I put those things into my own hands and hopefully that’s going to turn out into a dominant performance.”
Prior to the title loss, Woodley asked how his opponent was going to beat him, believing that he was better in every aspect of the fight game. Looking back, the former champion believes that he lost that night to the only opponent that could beat him - himself.
“I think me fighting at 50 per cent, he would’ve had a hard time beating me,” said Woodley. “Just being more creative with the striking, more accomplished wrestler, heavier hands, the experience of fighting high-level guys more often and then being in those five-round fights more than he had, so, I stand by that statement. I asked how is he going to beat me? He could never beat me. That was a version of me beating myself, I didn’t show up, I didn’t fight. What ever reason that happened, that’s what I have to deal with. Kamaru Usman could never beat me fighting at a level that I’m known to fight at, I don’t think he has the tools to beat me.”
Woodley’s goal is obviously to get his title back and he believes that an impressive win in Saturday’s Vegas main event could put him squarely into the conversation. However, he’s not planning to get ahead of himself.
“I definitely feel like a big win over Burns puts me right back in the title picture,” said Woodley. “I’m focusing more on the big fight and the big performance more than a world title fight. That’s the fight I want, but I think when you think about the next step, when you think too far down the road, you don’t give that attention to the person in front of you and that’s very dangerous in this division. I do think a win over Gilbert Burns puts me in that position, but I’m going to focus on fighting and beating him first and then we’ll talk Sunday about that.”