You’d be hard-pressed to find any fan of mixed martial arts that questions whether or not the skill set of Tyron Woodley is amongst the elite at 170 pounds. Yes, he was the UFC welterweight champion and earned that championship with a thrilling knock out of one of the most legendary welterweights in Robbie Lawler. But it’s the body of work accumulated before fancy gold belts were involved that is at the core of his reputation as one of the greats of the division. Saturdays night’s loss to Gilbert Burns wasn’t as much about the lack of skill set possessed by Woodley as much as it was about the apparent lack of desire within him. Of course, it was that, coupled with the fact that he was facing one of the most dangerous up and comers on the roster right now. A motivated Burns fueled by a burning desire to achieve success in this sport that’s evident just in the way he talks versus a Woodley who is unconvincing in his claims that he is refocused and more motivated than ever is a recipe for victory for the Brazillian.
If this contest taken place back when Woodley was the highly touted up and comer and putting on the sharpest performances of his career earning wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim, Kelvin Gastelum, and Robbie Lawler. How would last night’s fight against Burns look? It’s a moot point to make because everyone’s path is different, different fighters go through different stages of their careers at different times. Having two elite-level fighters journeys aligning such that they end up competing while they are both at the pique of their careers is far less common than most realize. Nobody from the outside looking in can say anything for certain, it’s impossible to know what’s going on inside each competitor’s head. But all indications are that last night’s results was a classic case of the passing of the torch.
Or was it? Who’s to say Burn’s victory last night was mostly because of how incredible he performed against the ultra dangerous Woodley. It would be fair to say that last night was the best he ever looked, and it happened to have been on the biggest stage possible. Amazing performances in this sport are always accentuated by being under the bright lights of the main event. The pressures that come along with being the focal point of a fight card are immense, not to mention the fact that you have to deal with an extra 10 minutes tacked onto the duration of your fight. So it’s for good reason that people who perform in these situations get higher praise than usual, the fruits from your labor in this game come from positioning yourself for greatness and subsequently delivering. Burns was on fire last night, so perhaps that’s more of the reason for the end result.
Burns’s path is precisely what Woodey went through all of those years ago when he was climbing the ranks and earning a reputation for being a destroyer from his Strikeforce days. His ascension to excellence was similar to Burns, he received more attention along the way, but it was a gradual climb with wins over the formidable competition that led to inevitable main event slots and high profile wins. Each high profile win moved him up the rankings to an eventual title shot in which he not only earned but went on to defend four times. A difficult task to etch into the records.
But for Woodley, after not fighting for over a year, and being forthcoming about how the focus just isn’t MMA but on things such as music, film, and business. It’s hard to view someone who makes those claimes as being as hungry and more motivated as they ever were. After 11 years as a professional mixed martial artist, the wear on the body and experiencing the highest of highs, it makes you wonder if it’s even possible to maintain the same desire after being this long into it. This isn’t a situation where his durability or response time seems to be diminishing, it seems like his lackluster performance last night are for reasons beyond the technical aspects of combat.
If anything, the fact that Woodley showed up and went 5 rounds with a motivated Burns is a testament to how good he is because Burn’s desire to win is anything but questionable. Not only has he maintained a very active fight schedule of his own, but in his time outside his competition, he has been both preparing and cornering teammates in their fights all around the world. The level in which Burns is immersed in MMA right now runs so deep, any opponent who is even getting a tad complacent in their training or preparation to fight him is headed for trouble.
No matter what the circumstances may be, Gilbert Burns has been quietly climbing the rankings,always taking a step up in competition and raising the bar with each win. Now with a dominant victory over one of the most respected welterweights MMA has ever seen and poised for a title shot of his own, Gilbert Burns has finally arrived.