Pull the trigger. Let it rip. Swing for the fences.
These analogous euphemisms, as well as a multitude of others, are about an MMA fighter going for the knockout, putting all their power behind a punch or a kick with designs not to pepper, but to pulverize. And it’s something top-ranked UFC welterweight Tyron Woodley is excellent at.
After an uncharacteristic loss at UFC 174 against Rory MacDonald, where Woodley never uncorked or unleashed his explosive strikes, many questioned how “The Chosen One” would bounce back in his next outing. Critics and fans didn’t need to wait long, as Woodley signed up the following week to take on the surging Dong Hyun Kim in August in Macao.
Once inside the Octagon, it took even less time to see how Woodley would react, as he scored a 61-second TKO of Kim.
“I thought it was a must-win situation where I needed to redeem myself,” Woodley said. “I knew I was capable of fighting hard. I wanted to go out there, fight that fight and win and do it for myself and that’s what I did.”
One punch floored Kim and six finished him on the ground, which earned Woodley his second Fight Night bonus and his fourth UFC win - all by knockout. The stoppage victory perfectly bookended the Missouri native’s 2014, a year that saw him at his best in his first fight - a TKO win over former interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit - and last fight against Kim, with a performance lull against MacDonald.
“I think my 2014 was basically a snapshot of what MMA is,” Woodley said. “Sometimes you have great performances and sometimes a guy walks out there and he’s better than you that night. It’s really how you take it. If you have success, do you move forward and get better or do you get a big head and have a chip on your shoulder? If you lose, do you crawl underneath a rock or do you go back to your gym and make yourself a better martial artist?”
At 32 years old, The Chosen One is currently ranked #3 in the division behind MacDonald and former champ Johny Hendricks. Being considered an elite welterweight with the belt always one or two fights within reach, Woodley admits in the past he has gotten frustrated and caught up in trying to predict the future paths toward a title shot. He has since ditched his crystal ball and solely has his sights set on the present and whoever is directly in front of him.
“That is really my focus on any fight from now, just maximizing my gifts, maximizing my potential and not underachieving,” Woodley said. “I think I have been able to link my wrestling with my striking. Having the threat of my wrestling, I have been able to let my hands go more. Having the threat of a pretty hard punch allows my wrestling to go. Mixed martial arts can be a chore sometimes. I’m trying to make it fun and exciting like it used to be when I first started. I had to really realize that in 2015, I’m just really focusing on things that I can control: my preparation, where I’m at as a fighter, my mindset, and staying true to myself and what I fight for and really try to reach my personal goals. That’s really all I care to focus on - what I can control.”
Up next, in his fourth straight co-main event spot, Woodley will collide with the welterweight division’s fastest rising star, Kelvin Gastelum, at UFC 183. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner is enjoying a four-fight win streak at 170 pounds inside the Octagon on top of his undefeated pro record. After earning a pair of decision wins in 2014, Gastelum capped off the year with an eye-opening first round rear naked choke of Jake Ellenberger at UFC 180, which netted him a Performance of the Night bonus. For sure, Gastelum solidified himself among the top 10 welterweights and now aims to break the top five with a W against Woodley.
“He’s a tough competitor, he’s a worthy competitor, he’s young, he’s hungry, and he’s working his way to the top,” Woodley said. “Youth is very dangerous. I used to be that 10-0 fighter that was undefeated and was calling out Nick Diaz and Paul Daley and Nate Marquardt. I was calling out every damn body. I remember how much I wanted it. I respect that in him. I know that he’s going to try and knock me off. I’m going to give him something to deal with when he gets in the Octagon. He’ll be a difficult guy, a young guy, a guy with a great pace, a guy who wants to fight hard and I accept that challenge.”
In preparation for Gastelum, the longtime American Top Team member is mixing things up by training at Roufusport in Milwaukee. It’s equal parts adding spice to a well-worn routine and the opportunity to help and be helped by friends who Woodley normally wouldn’t work with if he stayed in Florida per usual. He is getting quality work with former University of Missouri wrestling teammate Ben Askren as well as UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Also, Woodley brought his own veteran ATT contingent of Din Thomas and Yves Edwards to the wintry Wisconsin city.
“I’m just a big fan of the mental aspect Ben Askren brought to wrestling,” Woodley said. “Since we’re friends, there’s an accountability there if I’m loafing off or taking it easy. We had talked about training together, and me and Anthony have gotten to be friends over the years and we’ve talked about training together. I think me learning about him and him learning about me - I think we can help each other’s game. Just being out here in the one degree weather and coming out to the gym to train, it’s taking me out of my comfort zone and it’s helping me evolve as a fighter.”
This Saturday, Woodley is ready to go for broke against Gastelum in order to get a step closer to the mountaintop.
“Any time someone gets in front of me, I’m going to focus on that person and, eventually, I’ll be standing across the cage from someone and there will be two extra rounds and it will be for a belt,” Woodley said.