Whether he’ll admit it or not, Tyron Woodley stands at the crossroads of his career at UFC Fight Night

If you’ve noticed one thing about Tyron Woodley during the build to Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event against Gilbert Burns, it’s that Woodley hasn’t provided much worth noticing at all. 

Gone is the surly and often defensive interviews Woodley typically provided during his nearly four-year run as UFC welterweight champion reminding everyone just how under appreciated he truly is. Same for his attempts at building a crossover name by timing the release of rap albums and entertainment appearances with the same weekend as his fights. 

Fifteen months removed from a one-sided decision loss to current champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, Woodley has retained an almost scary level of calm and composure regarding his return. Only “The Chosen One” will be able to show inside the Octagon whether this newfound silence will prove deadly toward Burns’ title hopes when the two meet inside the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas. 

“I’m excited to go out there and show everybody that I’m the best welterweight of all-time,” Woodley told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast on Wednesday. 

Although Woodley is willing to admit his title loss brought back his focus, he won’t go as far as agreeing to any additional stakes being added to this fight. That’s understandable considering his Zen-like approach this time around, in which words like “pressure” don’t seem to have a place in his vocabulary. 

Can’t get enough UFC? Subscribe to our podcast State of Combat with Brian Campbell where we break down everything you need to know in the Octagon, including the complete and exclusive interview with Woodley below.

But despite Woodley’s claim to the contrary, this weekend is very much a crossroads opportunity for the 38-year-old in terms of dictating the direction of his career.

“I don’t have to prove anything, to be honest,” Woodley said. “I think my resume speaks for itself. This is more just my chance to execute. It’s not that I have lacked the skills, lacked the experience or the preparation, it’s just a time where I feel more committed and sharp. I want to go out there without even thinking and just be free and execute. I’m not applying any additional pressure that I have to do anything spectacular. I think if I fight to my ability, I’m going to do something spectacular anyway.”

So what about that humbling loss to Usman in which Woodley (19-4-1) was essentially rag-dolled for five full rounds by a seemingly hungrier fighter? If anyone’s looking for him to provide a reason for his performance — anything from personal distractions to getting old overnight — Woodley doesn’t have one. 

It’s not as if he’s avoiding the question, either. After four successful title defenses and worldwide acclaim as one of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters, Woodley was just as surprised as both his fans and critics that he was unable to perform up to his typical level and still doesn’t know — save for a spirited effort from Usman — where the disconnect came from.

“I don’t know but it definitely wasn’t Tyron Woodley. My body was there but my skills definitely weren’t there,” Woodley said. “[Usman] beat up on Tyron Woodley’s shell and, to be honest, if it had been me fighting me, I would’ve knocked me out. I think the fact that I was even able to compete the entire five rounds without being finished, just where I was at … it was a spacey moment for me. I just couldn’t put my thumb on what happened and what went wrong. At the end of the day, it made me stronger and brought back my focus to the sport.”

One thing Woodley is quick to point out is just how sparkling his record has been in response to losses. Sure, he came up empty from 2012 to 2014 against the likes of Nate Marquardt, Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. But each time, he bounced back immediately with a knockout to “get the message across” regarding who he is. 

While Woodley certainly respects the skill set of Burns, the 33-year-old Brazilian who enters riding a five-fight win streak and an emphatic finish of Demian Maia, this fight for Woodley is more about what he can do and not so much his opponent. And, should you be worried about his age at 38 or the long layoff, Woodley has that covered too. 

“I just didn’t take a lot of damage in my career, to be honest,” Woodley said. “I really only had one fight against Nate Marquardt where I did. I also, throughout my career, made a commitment to focus a lot on striking and staying off the bottom and getting top position on ground and pound. I have dedicated 85% of my training on where I thought the sport would be going in five years, which is high-level strikers and being very explosive with sound defense.”

Given Usman’s recent trouble attracting a huge name, which has led to public callouts of both Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor, Woodley is also confident an emphatic performance might just get him a quick turnaround and an opportunity to regain his title. 

“Of course, why wouldn’t I [be thinking title shot]? I can’t be a champion who defended four times without getting rematches,” Woodley said. “I will get to go out and show that this is the real Tyron, the one who didn’t show up the first time but should have. 

“The only reason I need to fight Usman is because I need the redemption for myself and to show myself and the fans that this is what I look like when I’m at 100 percent.”

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