UFC 205: Tyron Woodley vs Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thomson
The build-up to Conor McGregor fights generally end up hogging the spotlight in the lead-up to the event, leaving the other fights to fly under the radar.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise at UFC 189, when the McGregor-Aldo-Mendes saga consumed all the media attention but the Welterweight Title fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald ended up stealing the show.
The Welterweight Championship landscape has changed now, but the co-headliner for UFC 205 between Tyron Woodley and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson is still lurking relatively under-noticed in light of another glitzy build-up to the McGregor fight.
And much like Lawler-MacDonald, the Welterweight Championship bout Woodley-Wonderboy also has every stylistic ingredient to capture the purists’ hearts. Here then, are the keys to victory for both men.
Wonderboy’s kicking game and stance
Wonderboy’s wide array of kicks, and the incision with which he employs them present an extremely tough proposition to prepare for. Woodley may have brought in Sage Northcutt to mimic Wonderboy, but in all honestly, their styles hardly coincide except being derived from a broad karate background.
Being a World Karate champion and an undefeated kickboxer has allowed to Wonderboy to learn to use his kick in more ways that just what convention advocates. While most other fighters use kicks to create separation, hack away at their opponent’s legs or even knock them out, Wonderboy uses his bladed stance to full effect when he employs his leg almost like a jab.
This allows him to fight with his hands down by his side, promoting quicker weight-transfer and thus, lateral movement. It also reduces the body area that he presents his opponents with as a target.
Most of all, however, staying nimble, loose and bladed with his stance allows him to throw his devastating kicks almost at will. And possessing a wide array of them – including slap-kicks coming over the opponent’s shoulder, front hook kicks, spinning kicks, teepe kicks and push kicks – he makes it almost impossible for an opponent to predict his choice of offence.
When his opponents hardly have a chance to prepare for impact or make the necessary adjustments to get out of the way, they inevitably resort to shooting for a takedown.
Especially after working with Chris Weidman, however, Wonderboy has come on leaps and bounds in his wrestling game, making it really tough for his opponents to even take him to the ground and hold him there.
As displayed against Rory MacDonald, who is an impressive wrestler, it was only all too easy for Wonderboy to prevent him from closing the distance and keeping him at the end of his strikes. Hendricks fell prey to the same approach.
One reason why Woodley’s fate may be different, although, has to do with the point below.
Tyron Woodley’s blitzing right hand and leg kicks
Woodley reminded all of us just how destructive a weapon his right hand is, in his title-winning effort against former Champion Robbie Lawler.
Whether he is hitting his opponent with it while trading in the pocket, or closing the distance in a characteristic blitz and landing, there is no getting around the fact that the power in Woodley’s right hand has fight changing propensity.
He should be looking to use the threat of the takedown to back Wonderboy up against the cage, so that he can corner him and let fly with his right hand. Wonderboy hasn’t exactly displayed the most solid of chins in his previous fights, and the Champion should be looking to exploit that.
Whether he manages to land it, however, has to do with how quick Wonderboy is on his feet and if he can punish Woodley for even attempting to close the distance by intercepting him with strikes first.
Woodley, however, is one of the most effective distance closers in the UFC given that he doesn’t just rush in with his right hand cocked, but feints his way into a position from where he can deliver it with power.
Should he be unable to do so, another effective technique would be to employ leg kicks. Woodley really throws a nasty leg kick and with Wonderboy’s side-on stance leaves his lead leg vulnerable to it.
Hacking away at it throughout the fight ought to greatly reduce his ability to hop away from danger and mitigate the damage that he can cause with it while kicking. Wonderboy fights with a really wide stance and would be greatly destabilised should Woodley connects with his leg kicks.
Will Woodley be able to stay disciplined and execute this gameplan over 5 rounds? Or will Wonderboy just pick him apart from range like he did Hendricks and Rory MacDonald? This fight is finely balanced and the outcome of it may boil down to the intangibles that aren’t apparent rather than stylistic comparisons that are.
With both fighters possessing such clear, yet unique, keys to victory, whoever deals with the occasion and pressure better on the day could well end up on the victorious side.
You can catch the action on Sony ESPN, Sony ESPN HD and Sony Six at 8:30 a.m (IST) on Sunday, November 13th