LOS ANGELES — To paraphrase Georges St-Pierre, when Tyron Woodley watched the main event of UFC 229, he was not impressed by the performance.
Of either competitor.
The UFC welterweight champion worked the FOX desk on that infamous October night in Las Vegas, and he did not walk away from UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fourth-round submission victory over former titleholder Conor McGregor impressed by the way either competitor fought.
“It wasn’t that great a fight,” said Woodley, who was in town Monday promoting his Saturday night title defense against Kamaru Usman in Las Vegas. “I don’t care what anybody else said … they both kind of looked bad. They both looked like old men at the nursing home fighting each other. But then we glorified this fight. It wasn’t like this great strategic fight where one person was strategic.”
Woodley’s description of Nurmagomedov-McGregor was actually a backhanded way of complimenting McGregor for building himself into transcendent stardom in the combat sports world.
Including his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in 2016, the former UFC lightweight and featherweight champ has actually lost three of his past five bouts.
But that hasn’t stopped him from become a star to a degree never before seen in mixed martial arts.
“This is a person that, I don’t give stats, he’s lost a few times and won a few times,” Woodley said. “But look at his mystique he has. So it’s telling you it’s not so much about winning. It’s about the showmanship. It’s about what you bring to the table. It’s about making people give a f*ck. You gotta find a way to do both. You gotta find a way to do both of it. You’ve got to find a way to make people invested, want to see me lose, want to see me win.”
For his part, Woodley has become one of the sport’s most successful competitors, but he hasn’t reached that level of transcendent popularity. Woodley noted that a fighter who competes strategically and clinically, as he does, isn’t loved like a fighter who never challenges for a title but goes out on his shield in his or her losses.
“If you go out there and you punch and you bleed and you brawl and you go back and forth, you really can’t lose in that situation,” Woodley said. “You can get your ass whupped and knocked out, but if you fought to a point where everyone was like ‘oh my god, he’s so tough,’ not only with the fighters and the fans but the promotion, you’ve kind of almost put yourself in the mold where they’re going to keep you.”
That puts mixed martial arts in stark contrast, too, well, just about every other sport.
“We saw with [Keith] Jardine, we saw with so many fighters forever that, subpar, .500 records that stayed around that, then you have a guy who lose maybe one fight and they’re gone,” Woodley said. “And I just think that, when you look at a sport? Think about basketball. It don’t matter if you wear a pimped out custom suit, talk the most sh*t as possible, if you can shoot a three, you can shoot a three. How many times you seen Steph Curry talking crap? You get paid the big bucks based on how you deliver out on the court.”