One of the most intriguing match-ups on Saturday night's Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson main card is the welterweight showdown between NCAA Division I wrestler Tyron Woodley and devastating Muay Thai striker Paul Daley. The fight has had a surprisingly subdued spotlight due to the prominence of the main event showdown between Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson, but it may be one of the most relevant fights on the card due to the implications the outcome will have for both fighters.
For Woodley, a win will not only put him into the discussion of becoming a title contender, but it will be a pivotal moment in his career in which he crosses the threshhold as a legitmate upper-tier welterweight. Daley, on the other hand, is considered a fighter who has succeeded in the upper portions of the division since his unhinging of Martin Kampmann and Dustin Hazelett during his UFC stint in 2009-2010. Although he has been lumped into a group of fighters who are considered entertainers first rather than legit contenders, it's tough to discount Daley's status when his wrestling has improved considerably over the course of his career, his striking game is an overwhelmingly destructive skill, and he's only 28 years old.
Daley, himself, believes Saturday night may be his last opportunity to get back into the hunt for the title, telling USA Today's Sergio Non that he doesn't believe he'll be welcome back into the UFC or given the opportunity to fight for the title even if he is allowed back in. The added importance of this bout for Daley seems to be higher than previous bouts, likely because he understands what he's up against and how important this fight could be for his career.
The question is whether Tyron Woodley, who has had a smartly handled career that has allowed him to progress successfully through the ranks, can defeat Daley and bask in the spotlight on Saturday night. Can Woodley eventually become an upper-tier fighter who has the abilities to make the transition to the UFC and be successful at that level?
On paper, Daley is the ideal opponent for Woodley to feast upon. While his takedown defense has improved, Daley isn't a bulwark in the takedown department. Josh Koscheck proved that at UFC 113 in May of last year, and Jake Shields showed us the same flaws in his takedown defense at EliteXC: Heat in October of 2008. But if we look at those two names, we are talking about two top flight welterweights, not a couple of mid-range fighters who happen to have vaunted wrestling ability.
Woodley is less experienced and has yet to meet a fighter who possesses the devastating power that Daley hides in his hands. Daley has a skill that can bring fans to their feet in an instant, or as many of us like to call it -- the more vulgar "Holy #$%@!" factor. It makes this fight much more unpredictable than your standard wrestler beats fighter who can't stop takedowns.
Saturday night's showdown between Daley and Woodley is a pivotal career mark for both fighters. In victory comes big rewards, and both fighters are still relatively young in terms of prime fighting age. A loss won't completely derail either man, but Woodley stands to gain the most due to his unblemished record and hyped wrestling background. Can he succeed? I think he can, but Paul Daley is a threatening figure who could serve as a spoiler to Woodley's dreams of relevance.