Tyron Woodley has been where Kamaru Usman is now: challenging for a title.
When the two verbally jabbed and squared-off at the UFC 235 in January, Woodley believes saw he saw something else in his opponent too.
“He's scared, and that's OK,” Woodley said. ”I've been scared in fights, and sometimes, fear is a scary thing. Somebody that got their back against the wall, or they're against somebody they looked up to, or they're fighting a fighter that has been so dominant and crazy performances and you got to fight that guy, but don't be surprised. Some people that are scared, come out (and) fight hard, so I'm expecting him to come out blazing.”
“The Chosen One” hasn’t been shy in his pursuit to become the greatest welterweight of all-time. With three consecutive successful title defenses under his belt, he has the belief he’s well on his way there. Woodley said part of that success is believing that he is the best in the division, and he sees his opponent trying to do the same thing, but he doesn’t believe it.
“(Usman)’s trying to fake it until he can make it,” Woodley said. “His coaches are lying to him, and everybody's painting this picture for him that's not realistic. He's going to get out there, and he's going to have to have a rude awakening. And I like him. I think he's a good fighter. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to be the one to give him that rude awakening.”
On top of holding onto the welterweight title, Woodley keeps himself busy outside of the Octagon with acting opportunities, TV appearances and a music career. His newest album, Chaos Theory, drops two days after his fight with Usman.
We caught up with the champ to discuss how he balances life outside the Octagon with fighting and training as well as how he has evolved mentally when approaching high-stakes bouts.
UFC: Because you've been a champ for so long, how have you evolved in your preparation because you've been in these fights before?
TW: When you think about the fights, first it starts off learning how to deal with all the extra interviews and all the people yelling and all the things that comes with being a champion, and then it's actually the five rounds. Learning how to properly fight the five rounds. You can't fight it like a 3-round fight. I'm not saying that you ease up, but there are times where you've got explode. There's moments you got to win. You got to recognize that you have to sway the judges in certain parts of the fights, and you got to make sure each area, each 30 second burst, that you're on top of the scramble, that you win the exchange. So knowing that, and also knowing how to compound, like I set traps for fighters, so I do a move or two, and I see how they respond, then I come back to it later, and I might have set a trap in round one for round three. I might've set a trap in round two for round four in round five. I may put it all together, and then also just have to wear an opponent. Certain things you could do early in the fight, they just kind of wear on, and so if you make it to the last round, you look to be the more fresh opponent. And I think that's where my coaching staff and myself have really done a great job at and this training camp, we got some tricks us up our sleeve.
UFC: When did you really learn to implement those tactics in fights?
TW: It's been over years. A teammate of mine, Thiago Alves, told me, he said, I kicked him in the leg, and at the time he's probably the most vicious leg kicker in the game. And I was like, ‘Damn why'd I kick you in the leg? Because now you’re going kick me.’ He said, ‘I'm going to kick you in the leg anyway,’ so you can't not throw a combination because a person is going to fire back. He said any time somebody starts a sentence, you finish the sentence and hit it with exclamation point. So if they do a combination, you defend it, then you fire back, and you put an exclamation point whether it's a takedown, whether it's a hard shot, whether it's a leg kick, and then you go back into your rhythm. Judges remember that and also just knowing how to breathe properly, when to explode, how to get your opponents to the canvas and make it very hard. I want him to work hard. I want him to work hard to get up from the bottom. I want him to work hard and try to take me down. I want him to swing and miss, and then I want to hit him in spots on his body that's just going to wear on him. Hit him in his body, hit him in his leg, feint, and feint and make him think I'm taking a shot, throw the punch. Make him think I'm going to throw the punch, take the shot. Once you have all that s*** going on in a fight, it becomes frustrating. He's never been in a fight like that. On Saturday, you'll see.
UFC: What do you have to do to prove you're the best welterweight ever?
TW: I've reached a different dimension in this fight game. It was the opponent, fighting Carlos Condit, fighting Rory McDonald, fighting Jake Shields, and Robbie Lawler, and Koscheck, and Dong Hyun Kim, and all these people that are specialist in judo, specialists in karate, specialists in jujitsu, specialists in brawling, freestyle fighter, national champion wrestler. So I've been against all these guys and what I found out is you've got to be accepting and willing to just know to you’re the best, and the sooner you can come to grips with that, ‘I'm the best, I'm the best welterweight in the world." Now you can relax a bit and you can actually start thinking about the game plan and training yourself because all it is, is repetition and training. And then when you go out there build that with some good conditioning, build that with great coaching that knows how to say certain words to get you going. And then on top of that just throw a little swag on it and a little power to put the exclamation point in and you got the fight in the bag.
UFC: You and Kamaru had some good exchanges at the press conference in January. You've both been talking a lot.
TW: He's been talking a lot. I've just been asking him a lot. I'm asking him questions. How are you going to beat me? How are you going to do it? What, are you going to out-wrestle me? Going to out strike me? Who punches faster? Who punches harder? Who wrestles better? Who's been in more world title fights? So I just wanted him to provide me (answers) because he had this unwarranted level of, "Yeah, I'm going to win" and "Tyron, you've been a good champion." And he went home and practiced this stuff, and he was not ready for me to challenge what he said. And you can see it baffled him, but I was just having fun. Come fight day, whether you say something about my momma or you tell me I'm the greatest champion and give me a hug, I'm still going to try to beat your ass, and that's just the game plan.
UFC: You do a lot outside of the Octagon. How do you maintain that balance and why do you choose to do what you do?
TW: The renaissance man is a person that does a lot of things well but does nothing great. That was him. That ain't me. So we've heard that term, the renaissance man, and it's a label people use to box us in. When it's fight camp, it's fight camp, and this is the first camp that actually did a couple - I did four or five songs I recorded. I wrapped up my album, got an album called Chaos Theory to be dropping Monday so I fight on Saturday. Sunday, I got a release party in L.A. Monday I'll be in New York City dropping in on Sway in the Morning. So I'm sitting on a classic album, put a lot of work into it, and music and fighting goes so hand-in-hand. Now, if I was out you know doing things that took a lot more of my time, then I can understand, but most of the time I record music is at nighttime or during the day, times I wouldn't be training anyway. And it's actually a stress relief in (that) it's a way I can live an alter ego that I may not be able to do. Something I can't say on ESPN, or it might be a situation where I'm expressing how I feel through childhood. And these things, it's like a weight lifted off my chest, and then just like fighting, I'm systematic and I want to be the best at it. So I'm going to put the same kind of passion. There's very few things and very few people that can find multiple things that they're extremely passionate in, and as long as you're passionate, and right now I know that fighting is my moneymaker. I'm so close to cementing this legacy that I've been talking about. I'd be silly to draw all my attention away from it and put it all into acting, put it all into TV, public speaking. invest into businesses. Those are things that I have to do afterwards, but I would be silly not to plant a couple of seeds right now.
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.