In a year in which Michael Bisping, Meisha Tate, Amanda Nunes and Eddie Alvarez have all been crowned UFC champions, Tyron Woodley’s first round KO of Robbie Lawler is one of the least upsetting upsets of a wild 2016. Even so, the changing of the guard in the Welterweight division may well mark the end of an era in which a ‘fighters fighter’ can dominate a division full of highly skilled assassins.
The handling of Tyron’s next fight will be a useful insight into the UFC management’s decision making going forward. Too often did the Fertitta regime face accusations of ‘short term thinking’ and valuing ‘entertainment fights’ over rankings. A more meritocratic system may well prove to generate bigger fights and better spectacles in the long run, but, as the argument goes, could damage the UFC’s dynamism, which has long been their biggest USP in a sports market in which lethargy has gradually the crippled the appeal of their competitors, such as boxing.
The situation in the Welterweight division exemplifies this. Tyron’s fight against Lawler was largely considered contentious, having not fought in a remarkable 18 months prior to the title shot. This caused understandable chagrin within prospects including Demien Maia, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and to a lesser extent Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit.
Since seizing his chance, Woodley has wasted no time in calling out ‘money fights’, including the returning Nick Diaz and, wait for it, Georges St-Pierre; the most dominant champion in the divisions history and remains undefeated in the octagon since a 2007 upset loss to Matt Serra. Both these fights are intriguing for their own reasons and have significant fan appeal given the much anticipated returns of two of the best loved fighters in the UFC’s short history.
However, any fight other than ‘Wonderboy’ vs Woodley would be drastically unfair and, in my contention, inexcusably shortsighted. With a seven fight win streak with three Performance of the Night bonuses and impressive wins over top contenders Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald, ‘Wonderboy’s exciting karate style has won over fans and critics alike. He is most likely a victim of an era dictated by ‘McGregor’ style self promotion in which brashness and disrespect is the currency of champions.
Furthermore, ‘Wonderboy’ could very well be the champion that the division needs. A humble, exciting and marketable fighter, most fans considered him the heir in waiting to dethrone Lawler. Woodley’s win has throne a spanner into the works in that storyline, which has inexplicably turned the tide of public opinion against ‘Wonderboy’. I fully understand calls for GSP’s comeback title fight, being a contender for the ‘Greatest of All Time’ accolade, in any other division I would support an immediate shot for ‘Rush’. Given how stacked the Welterweight division is, ‘superfights’ will further exacerbate the top contender anarchy. A ‘Wonderboy’ win will establish a lucid hierarchy between challengers and challenged, as would a Woodley title defense. This would set up a reasonable position for GSP’s return or a Nick Diaz ‘moneyfight’. While this kind of long term thinking (two fights ahead instead of one) would be uncharacteristic maneuvering for UFC brass. Bisping – Henderson II springs to mind. A change of management is a perfect opportunity to break from the mould and, while it may cause some uncertainty for the average fan, the long term gains will generate respect and stability for the administration that is currently in short supply.