Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley has wanted to fight Jake Shields for years, and by all accounts he’s glad he’s getting his wish this Saturday at UFC 161 in Winnipeg. Woodley sounds more confident than ever following a dramatic 34-second knockout victory in his UFC debut over Jay Hieron in Feburary. The former Missouri All-American shows no concern over that tough knockout loss he suffered against Nate Marquardt last year.
“At UFC 161 fans can expect an explosive Tyron Woodley,” he says in a recent interview. But, as in his other bout against a major contender in Marquardt, will the step up in competition result in an implosion instead?
Woodley can boast some strong wins. His 2011 victories over Tarec Saffiedine and Paul Daley showed that he could impose his game against two of MMA’s better strikers at welterweight. Earlier in his career, he totally overpowered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu standout Andre Galvao as well. If the Galvao win didn’t prove it, the quick knockout of Hieron showed his power was no joke, either.
But against Shields, who boasts twice Woodley’s experience and is at least his match on the mat and in wrestling, will all those pieces fall together — or fall apart? Will he forget his bread and butter with the step up? Is he like an honor roll student who has the word “mats” misspelled on his homepage? Wait – well, actually, he is an honor roll student who has the word “mats” misspelled on his homepage. But that doesn’t mean he can’t fight. On the same site, he is quoted, “I want to make a statement in the UFC for my family and the people who support me. I’m glad I finished by knockout. This year is mine.”
Shields, according to Woodley, is “on his way out. He’s a specialist. That’s what happened with Royce Gracie vs. Matt Hughes and when Matt Hughes met GSP, and that’s what’s going to happen when Jake meets me on June 15…. he’s the Last of the Mohicans. He’s like Royce Gracie — he’s the last grappler left in the game, if you think about it. He’s the last specialist. The problem is that I’m a good wrestler. I’m a good grappler. I’m a good striker. I’m in the best shape… I think those things are the elements that he can’t control.”
So he’s confident, and to be fair, he has had a good career. He has been able to impose his strong wrestling game and hit enough boxing to gather his wins, with a bit of power to boot. He’s shown he can rebound from a loss, too.
Shields, however, has proven more. His striking may not get a lot of respect from Woodley or on Internet message boards, but it’s been enough to win a few rounds, including against Georges St. Pierre. His wrestling was enough to dominate another future Hall-of-Famer in Dan Henderson, and clean jiu-jitsu guard passes punctuated the win. Combine those skills and the truth is Woodley has it backwards – he’s the one who has never seen anything like his opponent.
Woodley just hasn’t really proven himself against the top dogs yet, and at 31, the time is now if he’s to show he really belongs there. In this observer’s opinion, it won’t be Saturday night.