Tyron “T-Wood” Woodley is finally getting his shot in the Octagon.  The former University of Missouri wrestler-turned-MMA welterweight got the call after a three year Strikeforce career and is set to fight veteran Jay Hieron on the UFC 156 preliminary card this Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Event Center in Las Vegas.

Woodley, who went 7-0 as an amateur, opened his professional career at 10-0 before finally dropping a fourth-round knockout loss to Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce welterweight title last July.  It may have been his first loss, but it was to one of the top welterweights in the game.  While the first loss is always the hardest, T-Wood still was able to walk away with some valuable lessons.

“I’m a lot tougher than a lot of people realize,” Woodley said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner.  “When I stick to my guns, I do really well in a fight.  I had an opportunity to finish.  When I aborted the game plan is when he actually finished.  The main thing I learned is stick to the game plan, stick to the script.”

Tyron Woodley (L) lands a kick (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

One blemish or not, Woodley is still a valuable fighter in the eyes of the UFC brass.  About a month or so ago, the former Mizzou Tiger got the call he’d been hoping for.

“I learned about the opportunity about four or five weeks ago,” explained Woodley.  “It felt pretty good, you know?  In my mind, it was just a matter of time until I made this transition.  It was never a fact of me thinking I would never make it.  So I was trying not to build too much hype into it and just focus on the opponent and the fight itself and not what’s on the canvas when I’m out there punching.”

And, punching he will do.  All of T-Wood’s amateur wins were finishes by either submission or knockout, and of his ten pro wins, he had five submissions early in his career.  However, more recently he has had four decisions and a first-round knockout of Andre Galvao, so, wrestler or not, he is no stranger to the “stand and bang” concept.

He’s definitely going to need his striking skills going into his contest on Saturday night against the veteran Hieron.

Hieron is on his third run in the UFC and his fourth overall fight for the promotion, after making his way through Bellator, Strikeforce and the IFL.  Hieron is a well-rounded fighter, spreading his 23 professional wins out between decisions, submissions and knockouts.  He was the inaugural IFL welterweight champ and is a very rangy fighter.

Hieron has only lost by knockout three times, with the first being to Georges St-Pierre, and has dropped three decisions, taking guys like Jake Ellenberger and Woodley’s former collegiate teammate, Ben Askren, the distance. He also has never been submitted.  This poses an interesting match-up with the wrestling-proficient T-Wood.

“I think it’s a great match-up,” admitted Woodley.  “I think the same way I fight every opponent.  I’m just going to stick to my guns and do what I did in training.  I’m just going to go out there and try to take his head off.  It’s a good opponent.  It’s a good first opponent, because I don’t think he’s as dangerous as Nate Marquardt.  But, also, he has some name recognition and a lot of fights under his belt.  So, I think it’s a good initial fight, good notoriety.”

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Woodley’s confidence is certainly deserved.  He was an undefeated state champ as a high school wrestler, competed at the top level in college, and has only the one loss to “Nate the Great.”  In addition to his credentials, he has one of the best camps in MMA at American Top Team.  He also cross-trained out west for this fight.

“Training’s going great.  I actually went out to the West Coast a little bit and trained in L.A.  It was great,” Woodley elaborated.  “I did some training with some guys I trained with in the past.  I kind of mixed it up this time, but it was awesome.  I had Din Thomas training with me and helping me out.  This guy’s got some long limbs.  I had to bring in somebody with a similar reach and similar fighting ability.”

Tyron Woodley (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

With the background, the camp and the overall confidence, Woodley is not too concerned about coming out victorious, and his prediction is simple, but not specific.

“I just see me winning,” Woodley admitted.  “Whether it’s a decision, a knockout or a submission, if I push the pace, if I do what I can do well, close the range and be patient, because he’s a guy who can be very frustrating and just make you want to dash in.  I’m not going to do those things and I’m going to be patient, so it doesn’t really matter to me.  I really want to put on a dominant performance.”

Hieron may be a seasoned fighter, but Woodley is young, hungry and dangerous.  And, he also has his aim set high.

“I’ve got all the top-five guys in my sights,” Woodley confessed.  “I’m going to be watching that March 16 card very closely in Canada, all those guys that are top-level welterweights.  I just want to win in dominant fashion, and after that, my mind’s going to be set on one of those guys.”

Well, if he puts on a dominant performance against Hieron, it may not take long for T-Wood to get an even bigger name.  The only way to make it in this business with any longevity is to set the sights all the way to the top, and that’s what Woodley has done.

In the meantime, the 30-year-old professional has a lot on his plate to keep him occupied between fights.

“I do too much with my time,” explained Woodley.  “I manage like five or six fighters, I run my own gym, ATT Evolution in St. Louis, Mo.  On top of that, I’m just training a lot of people.  I train kids.  I stay busy.  I got the opportunity to do a couple movies as well.”

However, fighting is first and foremost, and it’s what T-Wood is all about.  He wants fans to know one thing about him.

“To me, it’s a new breed,” he said. “I’m a fresh breath of air for UFC.  I’m different than any other fighter.  I’m looking to add to the pack.  The weight class is already deep.  I’m happy to hop in and spark some fireworks.”

Tyron Woodley (top) delivers ground-and-pound (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

In a time when a lot of people are vying for a shot at the front of the pack in a stacked welterweight division, the sport really needs somebody to do something big and make a statement if they want to get in the mix.  Woodley is looking to be that guy.

One has to wonder if he still has a relationship with former teammate and fellow MMA welterweight Ben Askren, who is still riding an undefeated streak and holds the Bellator strap.

“We keep in touch,” Woodley stated.  “Ben came in and we wrestled together.  I actually coached him a couple years after I graduated.  He’s a couple years younger than me.  We haven’t trained a ton of MMA together, but we’ve grappled a couple times.  I always keep up with his fights and support him with whatever he’s doing, and he does the same for me.”

Whether they train together or not, that’s a couple guys who combine for a 21-1 record, so it must be something in the water over at that Tiger wrestling program.

Woodley is looking to make the big splash in his UFC debut that Hieron failed to do in his return to UFC action.  He is hungry, experienced and ready for the long climb that comes with the territory in a stacked division. Look for Woodley to come out patient and calculating at UFC 156.  He really wants to insert himself into the welterweight conversation and get on track for a title run.

Tyron would like to thank his staff at ATT Evolution, “who always hold down the fort while I’m doing movies or fighting or doing anything that keeps me away from work.”  He also wants to thank American Top Team:  “I’ve been with those guys since 2006.  It was an amazing journey.  We’re going to hold the number one spot this year, as a team.”  Tyron also wants to thank all of his sponsors, including Dobbs Tires, Clinch Gear and all the people who support him from the beginning to the end.  Follow Woodley on Twitter: @TWooodley

Top Photo: Tyron Woodley (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator