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UFC 205: Alvarez vs McGregor Full Preview: Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson

With an unexpected emergency keeping David away from his co-writing duties, Phil goes solo to dive down into a championship match which pits distilled simplicity against flair.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Full breakdown of Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thomson, for the welterweight championship, in UFC 205 on November 12th in Madison Square Garden, New York.

Single sentence summary:

The most unpopular WW champion since... well... Hendricks attempts to defend his belt against a protagonist from a '90s karate flick.


Tyron Woodley (c), 16-3, +175

Stephen Thompson, 13-1, -170

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

The now-champ was once widely known as an exceptionally boring decision machine. In his then-biggest fight to date, he took on Nate Marquardt for the vacant strap in a fight which surprised everyone by being an absolute thriller. Added to the surprise was the way in which Marquardt knocked him out in the fourth round. Often this kind of performance (together with highlights like the brutal KOs which Woodley garnered when he joined the UFC), tends to elide some fan antagonism. However, something with Woodley just doesn't click, and that hasn't changed now that he's the champ. Too measured? Too calculating? Too black? For what it's worth I really like the dude. He's thoughtful and candid.

Wonderboy, as has been mentioned ad infinitum, came into the UFC with a ton of hype which was immediately fizzled by his loss to "journeyman" Matt Brown (in retrospect a nightmare matchup for a sophomore fighter who was still getting his MMA sea-legs, and where Thompson acquitted himself admirably). Since then Wonderboy has quietly and not-so-quietly been gaining momentum, with a string of increasingly impressive performances. Like Woodley, he's a thoughtful and interesting guy, albeit with a very slight tinge of Tom Cruise-esque unreality to him. You know, when someone is so wholesome that you get a sense of a social uncanny valley.

What are the stakes?

Aside from the belt, Woodley gets to prove himself a legitimate champion and a man who continually defies the odds, and Wonderboy adds a UFC belt to a long list of *incredible, *unbelievable kickboxing achievements

(*reference: Lucas "Sweet Scientist" Bourdon)

Where do they want it?

The champ takes being pared down to an artform. Offensively, he really isn't much more than a right hand, and a rather dangerously uncloaked right kick leg kick. He's a fine takedown artist, but his top game has never been much more than control. He throws a jab, but it's primarily as a range finder. Mostly it's just the right hand.

Essentially, Woodley is a proximity fighter. Essentially, he has a small "bubble" around him where he'll attack if it's breached. In terms of stance (and there's a parallel with the main event), he's not dissimilar to McGregor, with a heavy lead leg and a cocked power hand. His difference is primarily that he can explode forward into that power hand in a way which McGregor cannot. However, like McGregor, he can also land the right hand from a variety of angles, and with measured gradations of its power and commitment. This was much in evidence in the Gastelum fight, which was (to me) Woodley's most improved outing.

Like Woodley, Wonderboy is primarily a right-side fighter, but he does a much better job of disguising it than the champion does. Essentially his approach is dictated by stance: if he's in southpaw stance, he tends to use a darting right jab and a side kick. In orthodox, he tends to use more traditional round kicks and a more impressive array of counters. Thompson can use his left and does, but it's largely only in counters or combinations: stepping back and punching across the plane of his body, or just getting into brawls (something which he is surprisingly prone to doing).

Like a few other fighters on the card, Wonderboy's footspeed, rangy Cheater Frame, and excellent foot position awareness allow him to put himself in optimal positions. However, like fellow karateka Machida he is very dependent on his feet to get him out of trouble, without much in the way of head movement should he get deep into exchanges.

Essentially, Woodley needs to close the distance without getting kicked. Not only that, but he needs to force those exchanges of more than one or two layers, to get past the singular strata of Woodley's step-back counter cross and into the area where Wonderboy is weakest. This is really where only having one punch as your offense is a problem.

Insight from past fights?

Woodley's nadir was the fight when he was dismantled by Rory MacDonald. I don't think it's one which bodes well for him, because it showed how waiting at the edge of his attack bubble, feinting the way inside, and peppering him at maximum range was particularly bad for his commitment-and-explosion based offense.


We really haven't seen much of Woodley in the last two years. He knocked out Lawler so quickly that we just have no idea how much he's improved. He's a smart guy and a phenomenal athlete training with a quality kickboxer (Duke Rufous) who was himself just a little bit flashy and innovative in his prime.


The champ's path to victory seems slender, reflecting the odds. He can theoretically land the right hand, but what can he throw to force Thompson to open up into the positions where he can land it? Unless he's evolved into more of a two-handed combination puncher, I see him getting stuck on the end of Wonderboy's range far too much. In general, Woodley has not responded well to frustrating fights. Stephen Thompson by TKO, round 3

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