DALLAS — Tyron Woodley is back to defend his welterweight championship for the first time since UFC President Dana White blasted a winning performance last summer, when Woodley said he injured a shoulder during the fight.
Since that event in California about 13 months ago, Woodley demanded an apology from White, had surgery and dismissed an event for an interim welterweight title as a bout for a “boo-boo belt.”
The 36-year-old didn’t seem as interested in taking on the sanctioning body as he prepared to face undefeated challenger Darren Till at UFC 228 on Saturday night.
“I just know I have to get the win,” Woodley said. “The win over Till to me is a victory. It’s a victory over a tough opponent, a victory over a complex puzzle the UFC put together. And that’s all it really is.”
The co-main event for UFC 228 was canceled Friday when women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano was hospitalized with unspecified health concerns. The 29-year-old was supposed to face top-ranked contender Valentina Shevchenko. It was to be Montano’s first defense as the first title holder at 125 pounds.
After Woodley (18-3-1) beat Demian Maia in a plodding fight that drew loud boos from a frustrated crowd, White declared that “nobody wants to see Tyron Woodley fight” and said Georges St. Pierre would get the next shot at middleweight champion Michael Bisping instead of Woodley.
St. Pierre had since beaten Bisping and vacated that title, while Colby Covington beat former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos for the interim 170-pound belt in Chicago in June. Woodley didn’t seem too concerned over whether his bouts need to be more entertaining.
“I can’t control what people actually think and their perception of you,” he said. “I’ve been the great athlete in the sport. I’ve been the boring fighter. I’ve been the knockout artist. I’ve been so many different things. And I’m really still the same person. So I can’t tell the fans what type of mood to be in that day.”
Till badly missed weight before winning a close but unanimous decision over Stephen Thompson in a non-title fight in May in UFC’s debut in Till’s hometown of Liverpool, England. A few days later, a video surfaced showing a weak Till during his weight cut.
When he came in a pound under the 170 limit Friday, he flashed matching obscene gestures with defiant look. Woodley was actually the one with more to worry about, coming in a pound heavy before shedding the last of his clothing behind a banner and getting announced at 170.
The 25-year-old Till (17-0-1) is getting his first title shot.
“I don’t even think about pressure,” said Till, the No. 2 contender behind Covington. “So to me, 10 million eyes, 10,000 eyes, it doesn’t matter. It’s still the same fight in my head. It’s normal to feel scared, to feel nervous, to get butterflies before a fight.”
Woodley took the welterweight title from Robbie Lawler with a first-round knockout two years ago. The former All-American wrestler at Missouri then beat Thompson twice on majority decisions before handling Maia by turning away about two dozen takedown attempts by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master.
“When you get the call for you to fight the young, hungry fighter, that’s some of the challenge I’ll take for sure,” Woodley said. “I think my opponent is very confident in his abilities. Honestly and truly, sometimes they get in your face and they say a lot of stuff. So that alone right there is enough motivation for me.”