Does Tyron Woodley want to fight? It’s a question that has plagued the former welterweight champion — probably unfairly at times — for the better part of a decade.
There were moments early in his UFC career — losses to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald — in which Woodley simply did not show up. Critics called them uninspired performances. And after he won the UFC title in 2016, his title reign drew criticism from UFC president Dana White and fans alike, many of whom said he didn’t show killer instinct and always looked for the safe route.
When he lost his title to Kamaru Usman in March 2019, the popular narrative was that Woodley (19-5-1, 9-4-1 in the UFC) was more focused on his music and acting careers than fighting. And when he lost to Gilbert Burns, badly, less than four months ago, the resounding takeaway was that it just didn’t look like Woodley wanted to be there.
Well, if there was ever a time for Woodley to show up, it’s for his UFC Fight Night main event Saturday in Las Vegas, opposite bitter rival Colby Covington. Woodley, 38, appears to still have all the physical attributes of an elite welterweight, but his mental determination has never been more in question.
And Covington (15-2, 10-2 UFC), who has picked at Woodley from the sidelines on social media for years, is the type of opponent who will absolutely show whether someone wants to be in there or not. His offensive pressure is relentless and suffocating. Colby Covington is not a fun fight. It’s usually a gritty, dig-deep, frustrating one.
If Woodley shows up, the consensus is he can absolutely win. Back when he was champion, he was considered a healthy favorite to beat Covington if they fought. Now he’s a considerable underdog.
Woodley hasn’t appreciated being questioned about his commitment, and he definitely has not appreciated critiques of his style — this notion that he’ll do anything to take the most risk-averse path to victory.
Does Tyron Woodley want to fight? Saturday is his best chance (and maybe last chance) to finally put the question to bed.
By the numbers
91.1: Percentage of opponent takedown attempts successfully defended by Woodley, which is the best all time among 170-pounders. Woodley is 9-1-1 in his UFC career when allowing no takedowns, 0-3 when he does get taken down. He allowed two takedowns in each of his past two fights, both losses.
1,294: Total strikes landed in the UFC by Covington, the sixth most for an active welterweight. He threw a UFC-record 515 significant strikes in his August 2019 win over Robbie Lawler, landing 179 of them, the most in a fight in welterweight history.
48.7: Percentage of Covington’s total UFC fight time during which he has been in a controlling position. That puts him second among active welterweights, behind only champion Kamaru Usman (54.3%). Covington also spends the second-smallest percentage of time in bottom position, at 1.97%, again ranking behind only Usman (0.02%).
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
A look back
Five vs. five
Colby Covington’s most recent results
Loss: Kamaru Usman (TKO5, Dec. 14, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Robbie Lawler (UD, Aug. 3, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Rafael dos Anjos (UD, June 9, 2018)
Win: Demian Maia (UD, Oct. 28, 2017)
Win: Dong Hyun Kim (UD, June 17, 2017)
Tyron Woodley’s most recent results
Loss: Gilbert Burns (UD, May 30, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Kamaru Usman (UD, March 2, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Darren Till (SUB2, Sept. 8, 2018; watch on ESPN)
Win: Demian Maia (UD, July 29, 2017)
Win: Stephen Thompson (MD, March 4, 2017; watch on ESPN+)
And the winner is …
One thing Woodley has going for him in this matchup is that I don’t think he’ll fear Covington’s power. Not that he necessarily “feared” the power of Usman or Burns, but especially in the Burns fight, you could tell he felt his opponent’s power and respected it. Will he respect the punching power of Covington, who has just two career knockouts? Because if Woodley can fight freely — with little care about Covington’s power or the threat of being taken down — why can’t he win this fight? If Woodley moves forward and lands some of his powerful kicks and draws Covington into exchanges in the open cage, who’s betting against him in that scenario? The problem is, will he do it? Or will his back be to the fence, as it has been in so many of his recent fights? It’s hard to expect killer Woodley at this stage. It could happen, but the pick is Covington by decision.
Saturday’s fight schedule
ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Colby Covington vs. Tyron Woodley | Welterweight
Donald Cerrone vs. Niko Price | Welterweight
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gerald Meerschaert | Middleweight
Johnny Walker vs. Ryan Spann | Light heavyweight
Mackenzie Dern vs. Randa Markos | Strawweight
Kevin Holland vs. Darren Stewart | Middleweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Jordan Espinosa vs. David Dvořák | Men’s flyweight
Mirsad Bektić vs. Damon Jackson | Men’s featherweight
Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Mara Romero Borella | Women’s flyweight
Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Sarah Alpar | Women’s bantamweight
Journey Newson vs. Randy Costa | Men’s bantamweight
Andre Ewell vs. Irwin Rivera | Men’s bantamweight
Darrick Minner vs. T.J. Laramie | Men’s featherweight
Tyson Nam vs. Jerome Rivera | Men’s bantamweight
How to watch the fights
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
What to look for … beyond the main event
‘Cowboy’ rides again (and again)
No, Cerrone is not fighting Miller on Saturday. But “Cowboy” is chasing Miller for the distinction of having the most fights in UFC history. When Cerrone tangles with Niko Price in the co-main event, it will be his 36th appearance inside the Octagon, tying the record Miller set last month.
Cerrone already has a significant presence in the UFC record book. His 23 victories are the most ever, placing him one ahead of Demian Maia. Cerrone has a record 20 knockdowns, two more than Anderson Silva and Jeremy Stephens. Cerrone has been awarded 18 fight-night bonuses, two more than Charles Oliveira. And Cerrone’s 16 finishes tie him with Oliveira at the top of the all-time list.
The number that likely concerns Cerrone more than any of those, though: He has lost four fights in a row.
Two months in, Chimaev is speeding toward the top
How has Chimaev (8-0), a 26-year-old Chechnya-born Swede, drummed up so much interest so fast?
In his two UFC bouts, he outlanded his opponents 83-1 in significant strikes and 162-2 in total strikes.
He has finished all eight of his wins (four by knockout, four by submission).
Chimaev is seeking to become the fastest to 3-0 in the UFC’s modern era, at 66 days. The current record is 105 days by Johnny Walker.
As for Meerschaert (31-13, 6-5 UFC), despite being 2-4 over the past two years, he has put up some notable numbers that should give Chimaev pause. The 32-year-old from Milwaukee has 29 finishes among his 31 wins (23 by submission, six by knockout). Meerschaert is tied for the most submission wins in UFC middleweight history (five).
Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information research)
1. Ryan Spann enters Saturday’s fight with Johnny Walker on a four-fight winning streak. With a win, Span would have the longest active win streak at light heavyweight, surpassing Magomed Ankalaev and Glover Teixeira.
2. Mackenzie Dern, who meets strawweight Randa Markos, is coming off the first kneebar victory by a female fighter in UFC history. Dern, who pulled off that rare submission against Hannah Cifers in May, has two wins by submission in the UFC, one shy of the strawweight record held by Cynthia Calvillo and Rose Namajunas.
3. Kevin Holland takes to the Octagon for the third time this year, looking to become the seventh fighter to win three 2020 fights. Holland has two knockout wins this year and will look to join Brian Kelleher as the only fighters to earn all three 2020 wins by stoppage. Khamzat Chimaev can also achieve this feat.
4. The fighter riding the longest win streak into Saturday: Czech flyweight David Dvorak, who has won 14 in a row since October 2012. Dvorak won his UFC debut in March, defeating Bruno Silva by unanimous decision.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this report.