Inside, Tyron Woodley admits he didn’t think his campaign to fight Johny Hendricks would prove fruitful. But then he saw “Bigg Rigg” make one major mistake at the UFC’s recent International Fight Week and realized the long shot was about to become a reality.
“I was just trying to ruffle some feathers,” Woodley (15-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) told “The MMA Road Show with John Morgan” about his campaign to fight Hendricks (17-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC). “I thought there was a chance, but when he kind of eased up on making it sound like it was set in stone, I think that’s where he messed up at.’
“He came and said, ‘I haven’t heard anything yet.’ When you start doing that, you leave that little small window for error. I think that’s the way they let Carlos Condit slide in there.”
Hendricks, of course, is a former UFC welterweight champion who lost his title to current champ Robbie Lawler at this past December’s UFC 181 event. It was the second meeting between the two, with each man claiming once victory. So when Hendricks downed Matt Brown at UFC 185 in March and Lawler defeated Rory MacDonald in July at UFC 189, a trilogy seemed inevitable.
But between those two key results, Condit also picked up a win over perennial contender Thiago Alves in May, and Woodley paid special attention to how “The Natural Born Killer” handled his post-fight discussions, which took a quick turn between his moment in the cage and his time at the post-event press conference in Brazil.
“When I first watched him fight Thiago Alves, I knew he was going to get the title shot,” said Woodley, whose UFC 193 bout with Hendricks airs on pay-per-view from Houston’s Toyota Center. “He went from wanting to fight ‘whoever the fans wanted to see him fight’ to, ‘Hey, I’m ready for the title, you know? I’ve got a win over Rory. I’d love to fight Robbie.’
“I’m like, ‘Oh, somebody got into his ear.’”
Woodley then went to work on creating another high-profile matchup for himself. He looked at the rankings, realized Hendricks was the best possible opponent and then relied on a little bit of history to help sell his angle: The two wrestled in 2005 in a Big 12 conference tournament final, where Hendricks claimed Woodley bit him, leading to a match-changing penalty call.
Ten years later, Woodley, who’s ranked No. 4 in the NOS Energy Drink MMA welterweight rankings, said the anger he once held surrounding the incident has since subsided, but he felt it was a great way to help fans clamor for an MMA contest with No. 2-ranked Hendricks.
“I thought it was something interesting, something funny,” Woodley said. “Fans might want to see the fight because of it, and I think it worked out.”
The UFC 192 contest would seem to serve as a title-eliminator in the welterweight division, but Woodley isn’t letting himself get sucked into that talk for the time being. He assumed his June 2014 bout with MacDonald was for a shot at the belt before it was announced that a UFC on FOX 12 fight one month later between Brown and Lawler was actually going to determine the top contender in the division.
Woodley said it threw off his focus, and he wound up suffering a decision loss.
“I was overly prepared for everything (MacDonald) brought to the table, and then the week of the fight, they said Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler are going to fight, and the winner is going to get a title fight,” Woodley said. “That snatched the rug from underneath me and really made that fight not the same to me and really took away my focus. I was focusing too much on the media, too much on the interviews, too much on mentally thinking I was going to beat Rory and thinking about the title shot after that. It didn’t pay off.”
Instead, Woodley will simply count his blessings and focus on the task at hand, “a three-round fight against one of the best guys in the world,” and he’ll focus on what comes next after the win.
“I don’t want to focus on the title shot,” Woodley said. “I’m not in it. I’m fighting a three-round fight against Johny Hendricks, and that’s what it is.”
To hear more from Woodley, download Episode No. 20 of “The MMA Road Show with John Morgan.”