Tyron Woodley is considered to be one of the top welterweights outside of the UFC, but he still has a lot to prove. Heading into his Strikeforce title fight against Nate Marquardt this Saturday in Portland, Woodley will be looking to not only take home a belt and beat an established UFC veteran, but also knock out some of his detractors while he’s at it.
As with many wrestlers who play to their strengths, Woodley has been slapped with the label of “boring” by many fans that prefer to see fighters stand up and bang in de facto kickboxing matches. Woodley, a former All-American freestyle wrestler at the University of Missouri, doesn’t see his takedown-first style of offense as a negative, but simply as a part of the game. In an interview with UFC.com, Woodley said bluntly:
“I believe that if I want to get up, I’m getting up. If somebody goes for a takedown, I’m stopping it. If they take me down, I’m getting up, and I just think that’s a mentality that wrestlers have, but (the critics and complainers) don’t share that mentality. They feel that they can join in with the fans: “Aw, he’s just lay-and-pray.” Well if I just lay-and-pray, why don’t you stand and strike? You’re a grown man. You’re just going to lay down there with another man on top of you? You’re defenseless and can’t get up? It’s MMA.”
The fight will not only be a platform to showcase his talents, but also a chance for “T-Wood” to place himself into the upper echelon of welterweight fighters in the world. Marquardt is easily the most seasoned opponent Woodley has faced to date, and a convincing victory would likely catapult him into the worldwide top 10. Marquardt, however, is no stepping stone. He’s an experienced and well-rounded fighter whose own elite ground skills should provide a challenging matchup on the mat, and could also challenge ever-critical fans to stay awake.
Woodley isn’t backing away from his accomplished opponent either, taking verbal jabs at “Nate The Great” in the weeks leading up to their match. As a result, Marquardt is now coming into this fight with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, telling Inside MMA that he felt slighted by the Strikeforce vet. “I’m going to knock him out,” said Marquardt. “The guy was disrespectful to me, made fun of me, said I stutter and stuff like that and, you know, I’m going to make him stutter.”
Marquardt seems intent on keeping the fight upright, and if he manages to stuff Woodley’s aggressive takedown attempts, it could change the outlook of the matchup. Woodley’s standup is yet unproven, with only one of his 10 wins coming by way of knockout. Marquardt, on the other hand, has only been knocked out once in 46 professional fights, that loss coming at the hands of some guy named Anderson Silva.
This is undoubtedly the biggest fight of Woodley’s career, offering him a shot at his first major title, but he now finds himself in an awkward position in terms of his game plan. He can stick to his guns, and do what has made him the undefeated fighter he is, or he can swing for the fences in a high-risk, high-reward attempt to change the discussion about his fighting style. An argument can be made for both approaches. A title win would be big for his career, but finishing Marquardt for a title win would be huge. After all, finishers are the type of fighters that Dana White wants competing under his banner, and cleaning out the Strikeforce welterweight division would certainly put Woodley in prime position to make the jump to the UFC. The only thing that seems certain is that no matter which way the fight plays out, a statement will be made this Saturday.