Welterweight Tyron “T-Wood” Woodley made a name for himself with a stellar run up the Strikeforce ladder. This Saturday at UFC 156, however, fans will get to see Woodley transition from the dead promotion to the UFC. Woodley will be battling Jay Hieron, another solid fighter that has made a name for himself elsewhere and found his way back under the Zuffa banner.

Both fighters have outgrown the description of “prospect,” but their maturity still leaves something to be desired when compared with the world’s best in the UFC. However, each holds strong footing outside of the sport’s elite. When we talk about that world-class level of most UFC fighters, it seems like an injustice to either man’s serious skill set to be discounted in scrutiny.

In Hieron’s case, it might be easier to argue as to why he wouldn’t be a threat to the UFC’s 170-pound division. After all, Hieron lost a fight against welterweight standout Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FX 5 and fell to Bellator kingpin Ben Askren in the year previous.

But Woodley has only tasted defeat once, and his road towards the UFC welterweight mix is still fresh on hope. If you care to read most website’s previews of the upcoming UFC 156 event, you will see that the majority favor Woodley in this fight. And for good reason, given his background as an NCAA All-American wrestler from the University of Missouri.

It’s through using that wrestling and clinching base that Woodley has secured most of his victories. That’s how he controlled his fights with dangerous strikers Tarec Saffiedine and Paul Daley.

Hieron has shown to be solid boxer with great conditioning, able to go the distance as he has in most of his recent wins. However, he is also unable to stop opponents with better wrestling who can control him in a fight. This should play right into Woodley’s hands. While it is important for “T-Wood” to showcase himself, he can reasonably resort to a wrestling game plan to control the fight if it starts to go the other way for him.

Woodley is still learning to trust his hands inside of the cage, but we saw glimpses of promise in his most recent loss to Nate Marquardt. In the first and third rounds, Woodley caught Marquardt with punches that briefly put him down. Had the Missouri native been able to cleanly follow-up with unanswered punches in the third round, he might have scored a TKO. The veteran Marquardt was able to collect himself and fight back, though, which is a testament to why he has maintained a consensus top-level ranking since leaving the UFC.

Moments like those are important to a fighter’s intelligence. If Woodley has learned from that, then we should only expect to see an improved version of the fighter in this bout. This could have been a completely different discussion about Woodley had he succeeded in that fight, but that hope for moving upwards in the UFC division is still fresh. Questions still need answers, but what Woodley has shown thus far is concrete.

Many would assume that Woodley is simply a fighter that benefited from Strikeforce’s matchmaking and is yet to be exposed. Luckily for him, he gets a stiff but reasonable test with Hieron, and will not be thrown to the wolves just yet. Woodley is that breed of fighter that proves time and again that a superior wrestling base can take a fighter straight to the top. Once he faces a fighter that can keep the fight standing, especially in the later rounds of a fight, we will truly see how much of a benefit Woodley has received through matchmaking thus far in his career.

Marquardt was a good start in understanding the deficiencies in Woodley’s game, and we can easily call Woodley a threat outside of the top 10. If the UFC continues to build him up against guys around the caliber of Hieron, it will only help his case towards initiation into the mix.

More likely, it will be the people outside of the cage that will help or hurt Woodley’s image in his fights. So often is judging controversial that, depending on who is scoring the contest, wrestling-oriented fighters like Woodley are considered either dominate or, inversely, barely scraping by in a fight. We saw a similar scenario with the most recent UFC on Fox card. Clay Guida controlled Hatsu Hioki long enough to take a split decision, yet many observing spectators saw his lack of action as an indication that he didn’t do enough to win. That is a gray area that Woodley wants to avoid in his introduction into the UFC.

Such affairs will not please the fans and leave the winner looking like the cat who ate the canary. If Woodley expects to hold his opponents down in the UFC, it would go a long way for his acceptance from fans if he shows more aggression with his dominant positions.

Other than that, Woodley appears to be the favorite for this fight. Fans will be interested in seeing his improvement and comfort level with striking, which he will have to develop as a threatening weapon if he is to move upwards in the division. Nonetheless, the UFC should prove to be a good home for Woodley.

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

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.