‘Now I can breathe, now I can float – now I’m back’ – The remaking of Tyron Woodley

The former champ has joined forces with a surprising ally ahead of his pivotal main event match-up against the division’s most disliked man, Colby Covington, exclusively live on BT Sport on Saturday 19 September.

By George Mills Published: 17 September 2020 - 12.32pm
Features UFC

Jorge Masvidal

“I’ve got a weird peace for somebody who just got they ass whooped!”

The dust had barely settled on Tyron Woodley’s one-sided defeat to Gilbert Burns in May when the former welterweight champion took to Instagram Live to mull over the events of that evening.

“I don’t know why I’m at peace,” the ‘Chosen One’ explained.

“Not with losing, not with defeating, not with losing to Gilbert. Gilbert came out and did his thing and at the end of the day, it wasn’t a situation like the [Kamaru] Usman fight where I just felt like I wasn’t there.

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“I was there. I was present. I was responding. I heard what my coaches was saying. I just couldn’t get my hands on him. I can take a loss when I go out there and felt like I was present in my head and body.”

His words were a marked departure from those you would normally expect from a fighter in the hours following a loss – particularly at such an important juncture in the veteran welterweight’s career.

Woodley’s loss to Burns marked a second straight defeat for the first time in his career – but it was the emphatic manner in which both Burns and Usman cruised to victory that raised questions about whether Woodley could remain among the 170lb elite for much longer.

At 38 years old, the Missouri man is in the twilight of his storied career and, having gracefully accepted defeat to Burns last time out, Woodley knows he must reverse his ailing form against arch-rival Colby Covington this weekend.

Perhaps recognising the need to reawaken the monster that pulverised Robbie Lawler and ruled the welterweight division for so long, Woodley’s coach, Din Thomas, warned how age can change a fighter’s mind set. 

“I think this is probably one of the worst stylistic matchups for him”
- Kamaru Usman on Woodley facing Covington

 “It’s a real thing, it’s why I retired,” Thomas told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.

“At one point you’re 25 and you want to eat a person’s eyeballs. Next thing you know you’re 40 and you’re like. ‘I’d rather take this guy to dinner’. That’s life.

“But once you recognize that and separate it, you can go. ‘Alright for these 25 minutes, we need to be the 25-year-old who wants to eat your eyeballs’. We need to realize that and get to that dark place on September 19.”

In looking for inspiration to help return to the best version of himself, Woodley revealed he has reunited with former team-mate and fellow welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal.

Masvidal, who challenged Kamaru Usman for the 170lb title in July, is no stranger to a setback himself having been beaten 14 times throughout his MMA career.

But prior to losing on his maiden attempt at the title at UFC 251, “Gamebred” built off the back of his two straight losses to enjoy the best run of his UFC tenure, stopping Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz in crowd-pleasing fashion, becoming one of the sport’s biggest draws in the process.

Revealing how the partnership came around during an interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani last week, Woodley said: “I started training with him, he had such a good time he said ‘I’m going home for a day or two, then I’m coming back out’. He came back out and it’s just iron sharpening iron.”

As alumni of the superstar factory that is American Top Team, the pair know each other well having trained alongside one another for years at the Miami facility back in the day.

“What people don’t know is I’ve trained with Jorge five years straight before,” Woodley continued.

“When I first joined American Top Team and he was at ATT, we trained hell on wheels. Me, him, Thiago Alves, Yves Edwards, Luigi Fioravanti, Michael Chandler. That’s all we had, that was our group. We trained every day, we helped each other.

“I’ve always been American Top Team and I’ve always supported Jorge. If you go back the last two or three years, you’ll see me giving Jorge his credit and being happy for him genuinely that he is finally making the money. So when he reached out, I said ‘hell yeah, let’s get him in’.”

4
Welterweight title defences during his reign

The addition of Masvidal, the architect of a stunning career revival he has branded “The Resurrection”, appears to have given Woodley a timely boost ahead of his showdown against number two-ranked opponent Covington.

“He’s holding me accountable,” Woodley continued.

“We’ve both found a way to stick with it and we’ve both had a really long career because of our IQ and because we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations in training so we can thrive in the Octagon. I want to see him do well, I want to see him continue to make money and he wants to see me back on top.

“We’ve had these types of conversations even before this happened [becoming training partners] but he says ‘Tyron, you need to get your head straight. My head was f***** up and I cleared it up. Now look what happened; Till, Askren, I went on a run. You’ve gotta do the same thing.’

“He gave me the motivation and accountability because I didn’t want to let him down. He hit me up personally about a year and a half ago and told me there were some toxic things in my life that I needed to erase, and I’ve erased those things.

“Now I can breathe, now I can float, now I’m back – and it feels good. And I’ve really got to thank him for that.”

Whether Woodley can triumph will come down to how much the 19-5-1 fighter has learned from his two successive losses; stylistically, Covington is likely to employ a similarly suffocating approach that saw both Usman and Burns to victory over Woodley.

Covington’s relentless forward pressure brought out the best of Usman when the pair clashed at UFC 245 as the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ fractured his rival’s jaw on his way to a thrilling fifth-round stoppage.

But speaking ahead of Woodley’s date against Covington this weekend, the champ warned of a tricky night ahead for his predecessor.

“I think that this is the best and possibly the worst case scenario for Tyron Woodley,” Usman said.

“As far as style matchups, I think this is probably one of the worst stylistic matchups for him after coming off back-to-back fights with guys that love kind of pressure him. Guys that can grapple as well and guys that kind of throw some volume.

“On the flipside, this is a tremendous matchup for Tyron Woodley because Tyron Woodley is a specialist when it comes to dealing with southpaws.

“He knows how to angle off, to kind of guide them into that big right hand that he has.”

Can Woodley sow the seeds of his own resurrection under Masvidal’s stewardship – or will we see the curtain come down on the welterweight’s time at the top?

Watch UFC Fight Night: Covington v Woodley exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD and across the BT Sport digital network from 11pm on Saturday night.