It was the second day of February when my article about what the future could hold for welterweight Tyron Woodley leading up to his UFC debut against Jay Hieron came out. Now, after his 36-second starching of Hieron on the UFC 156 prelims on FX, his hype can be better understood in the context of breakout talent.

In that previous article, I stated that, while Woodley has an excellent offensive wrestling base, his hands would need to be developed as an equally great weapon for him to earn his way into the mix at 170 pounds in the UFC. It appears that Woodley is an avid reader of The MMA Corner, because he did so as impressively as one can, without even having to resort to his strength in grappling.

Woodley, utilizing his superior clinch work and wrestling, worked his way up the Strikeforce ranks with somewhat exciting wins over notables Paul Daley and Tarec Saffiedine. While “T-Wood” finished four of his nine fights in Strikeforce (three by submission and one via knockout), it was the run of decisions leading up to his meeting with Nate Marquardt for the welterweight title that fans remember as his style of fighting. He’d earned a reputation as a play-it-safe-wrestler.

However, that image started to change after his fight with Marquardt. We saw Woodley letting his hands go in the fight, and he even caught and dropped Marquardt with punches on a couple of occasions, coming close to finishing him. That fight undoubtedly gave Woodley a dose of confidence with the strength of his striking, and that led to his victory over Hieron.

The Hieron fight saw Woodley utilizing the footwork of a striker. He was actively circling and keeping his feet moving until he lunged toward his opponent from the outside with a looping right hand. The punch dropped Hieron and Woodley pounced to rain punches from the top of his fallen opponent for the finish.

Fans that had followed Woodley’s fights through Strikeforce would have expected to see the cautious wrestler they were used to, but “T-Wood” came into his UFC debut looking to make a statement. And he did just that. Now, Woodley has a made a case for himself as someone to watch in the welterweight division.

Up-and-comers that earn an impressive win inside of the Octagon usually are set to get right back into the cage to continue their upward progression. A few more fans might put them on their radar, but the fighter isn’t going to receive any parades of attention for their performance the way the UFC main-eventers are accustomed to following a big win. The small praise that they do receive will quickly be followed up by the question of who they will fight next. It will take a high-profile win to earn the respect of fans. From what we all know about the fans and the culture of the sport, the doubts and need to prove oneself might never end.

For Woodley, the more guys he can win impressively against inside of the top 20, the better. He’s shown sensational growth, but it still might be too soon to grant him a top-10 opponent. With George St-Pierre, Nick Diaz and Johny Hendricks settling their fight triangle and guys like Demian Maia staking their claims for contendership, Woodley is a name that doesn’t need to be put in that same tier just yet. A top-10 ranking is a goal he can shoot for in 2013.

Jay Hieron was a solid test, and the UFC has plenty of guys like him on its roster. Two UFC welterweights on winning streaks are Mike Pyle and Mike Pierce. Those are the kind of guys that give similar matches to what Hieron offered. They aren’t the kind of names that would significantly boost Woodley’s profile, but if Woodley can keep defeating guys the way he did in his UFC debut, then fans will begin to take notice and it would serve to bolster his UFC portfolio.

Woodley has plenty of time to let the top welterweights clear the current log jam. Eventually, Woodley will be fighting big-name opponents. Guys like Diego Sanchez, Thiago Alves and Dong-Hyun Kim are well-known names, and gaining a win over any of them would place Woodley in the mix of the top 10. Woodley is probably ready to test himself against them, but why get there too soon? Woodley isn’t dealing with the issues that he faced with a Strikeforce contract, so why shouldn’t he continue to earn a paycheck while gaining positive exposure against solid fighters and smart matchmaking?

It wouldn’t be a bad thing if 2013 saw “T-Wood” gain some respect and continue to earn highlight-reel wins.

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.