Tyron Woodley has been a wildly successful mixed martial artist by an available measure, but the bipolar nature of his performances figures to cast some doubt on his legacy long after he leaves the sport.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder will return to center stage when he meets Gilbert Burns in the UFC on ESPN 9 headliner this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The 38-year-old Woodley has lost just once in eight appearances since 2014—a unanimous decision defeat to Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 that cost him the 170-pound championship more than a year ago. Even with the extended layoff, his resume remains strong enough to keep him relevant in the division he once ruled, highlighted by victories over Darren Till, Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit.
Woodley’s career features its share of defining moments. Here are five that stand out:
1. Reality Check
Former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt dispatched the previously unbeaten Woodley with a series of savage fourth-round strikes against the cage to capture the vacant welterweight championship in the Strikeforce “Rockhold vs. Kennedy” co-main event on July 14, 2012 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Woodley met his end 1:39 into Round 4. Marquardt was the superior fighter from the start, as he blasted the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler with right hands throughout the bout. Woodley dropped the longtime Trevor Wittman protégé with an overhand right of his own in the third round, trailed him to the mat and let loose with some ground-and-pound. Marquardt kept his composure, his experience and toughness digging him out of danger. By the end of the frame, Woodley was a spent force. That set the stage for the finish. Marquardt pinned him on the cage, uncorked three violent standing elbows and sealed it with a left hook and vicious right uppercut. Woodley collapsed, a beaten man for the first time.
2. Contender’s Resolve
Woodley rebounded from his aforementioned loss to Marquardt in his Octagon debut, as he needed a little more than half a minute to wipe out former International Fight League champion Jay Hieron with first-round punches in a brief but violent UFC 156 undercard encounter on Feb. 2, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. A late replacement for the injured Erick Silva, Woodley dropped the hammer 36 seconds into Round 1. The Ferguson, Missouri, native let his quick and powerful fists fly. He clipped Hieron with an overhand right and flurried for a finish, unleashing a violent torrent of rights and lefts, the last of which rendered his grounded opponent unconscious and announced Woodley’s arrival as a potential player at 170 pounds.
3. Disrespect Your Elders
A split decision setback to Jake Shields was followed by one of Woodley’s finest performances, as he knocked out Josh Koscheck with a pair of crushing right hands in the first round of their UFC 167 welterweight showcase on Nov. 16, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Koscheck succumbed to blows 4:38 into Round 1. Woodley drilled “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 alum repeatedly with his howitzer of a right hand. Koscheck withstood the Strikeforce veteran’s initial advances and even backed up “The Chosen One” with a thudding right of his own. However, late in the first round, Woodley’s right hook left a dazed Koscheck squatting and defenseless. He then polished off the American Kickboxing Academy standout with another concussive shot to the head.
4. Men of Inaction
After Woodley captured the undisputed welterweight crown with his knockout of Lawler and successfully retained it in a two-fight series with Thompson, he was confronted by one of the sport’s true gentlemen. What followed was not pretty, but it was undeniably effective. Woodley maintained his hold on the welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Maia in the UFC 214 co-main event on July 29, 2017 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Scores were 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46. Maia spent the majority of his time eating punches and shooting takedowns, the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt growing more desperate by the minute. Woodley, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, denied all 23 of his takedown attempts in the five-round affair. The champion was content to peck away with intermittent punches from the outside, his work resulting in damage to both of Maia’s eyes. The crowd became increasingly restless with the lack of action as time wore on and began chanting “boring” toward the end of the fifth round, as Woodley fell out of favor with the masses.
5. No Choking Matter
“The Chosen One” spent the better part of nine minutes zipping the lips of his critics in the UFC 228 headliner, as he retained his welterweight championship in sublime fashion by submitting Till with a second-round brabo choke on Sept. 8, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Till bowed out 4:19 into Round 2, the hubris-infused Englishman tasting defeat for the first time in his 19-fight career. Following a slow-paced an uneventful first round, Woodley dropped the hammer. The Din Thomas protege floored Till with a right hand, moved into top position and assaulted him with punches and elbows, one of which opened a cut near the hairline. To his credit, the challenger remained lucid despite enduring a hellacious beating that seemed to go on forever. However, Woodley framed the choke, put Till in a vice and squeezed for the finish, executing his first submission in nearly eight years. However, it was the last time he walked out of the Octagon with the 170-pound title. Woodley wandered into the path of a runaway freight train—Usman—six months later.