2020 was a year to forget for Tyron Woodley.
The former UFC welterweight champion went 0-2 this campaign, failing to rebound from the loss of his title to Kamaru Usman in March of last year. Instead, Woodley suffered a pair of setbacks that left observers wondering how much the 38-year-old had left in the tank.
Woodley’s lopsided five-round decision loss to Gilbert Burns in May did little to convince fans that the performance against Usman was just an off-night and then four months later he again lost in convincing fashion to Colby Covington. Not only was Woodley outclassed by a hated rival, but a rib injury prevented him from even making it to the final bell.
With 2021 looming, Woodley’s coach Duke Roufus gave MMA Fighting an update on “The Chosen One” and their expectations for the new year. According to Roufus, the financial hit one takes going from from champion to contender has affected Woodley’s motivation.
“He’s really just working his way back up,” Roufus said. “A lot of people don’t realize the change in—You hate to talk about money, but people who fist fight for a living, I did for 20 years, I understand these guys want more than normal people. The way it works when you are the champion you get paid X amount, then you go back to your normal pay and it’s definitely a change of attitude. I think it’s a little harder to stay motivated, I think it’s harder to become champion again in the UFC because it’s such a change of attitude and people who’ve been doing it, I tip my hat to them. It’s very hard.
“Tyron is working on getting his motivation back. You can say what you want about him, but there’s no quit in the man. I respect that a lot. Most people would give up after the tough days these guys see, but there’s no quit in Tyron and he’s optimistic about 2021 and he’s looking to turn it around.”
Roufus said Woodley’s team is targeting a March return and that Michael Chiesa was seen as an opponent they were eyeing, though it was reported Tuesday that Chiesa will fight Neil Magny in January. Should that matchup materialize later, Roufus likes how Woodley’s style matches up with Chiesa’s.
Until Woodley signs his next bout agreement, Roufus is focusing on making sure that Woodley is properly prepared ahead of his next fight. Roufus has had a hand in guiding longtime pupil Anthony Pettis out of a recent slump—Pettis has now won two straight fights after defeating Alex Morono this past Saturday—and he sees similarities between the onetime UFC champions.
“He hit me up last week and I think we’re gonna do a full camp this time in Milwaukee,” Roufus said. “I’m not saying that’s the reason why he won or lost, but I just like spending time with these guys because I can connect with them. It’s not always about Xs and Os, it’s about experience. Here’s the thing, I was successful, but I also was a failure too. One of my biggest things I had going for me, I wasn’t perfect as a fighter. I had some setbacks and I had to dig through adversity. I teach from my failures, not from my success and that’s something I’m very transparent about with the guys I work with. I don’t judge them, I just try to use my experience to help them. The more time I can spend with them, the more I can help them.
“I know it’s important to get into a longer training camp situation with Tyron because he’s a special guy. Special people like him and Anthony, they’re more like F-1 racing car engines. They take a very special mechanic to get that fine-tuned engine to perform at the level that they do. If we can get ‘em right, then it’s something special.”
Woodley is currently mired in the first losing streak of his career and has now gone over two years without a victory. Given that he still appears to be in top physical condition, Roufus theorizes that much of Woodley’s problems are psychological and just as importantly, fixable.
“A lot of people don’t understand these guys have tough upbringings and unfortunately these guys suppress a lot of the bad things that have happened in their lives,” Roufus said. “They use it as motivation for a long time but these situations they grew up with they kind of hide them for the longest time and they cause a lot of emotional strife in their life and I believe their emotions are blocked when they get into the arena. But as close people in the inner circle we help work through them and help them be the best they can be.
“I think that Tyron heading into 2021 is gonna be a better fighter and person and he’s gonna figure it out. One of my favorite guys I follow in jiu-jitsu—I don’t train with him but I like a lot of what he talks about—is Chris Saunders. He has a great quote about jiu-jitsu: ‘The best isn’t who does the best. The best are the guys who stick around the longest.’ That’s what it is, you’ve just got to endure and keep fighting until you figure it out.”