In Tyron Woodley’s mind, he was going to retire as UFC champion.
After winning the welterweight title in 2016, and successfully defending the belt three times, Woodley felt like he was well on his way to legendary status. Then he ran into Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 and five rounds later, Woodley was left with a unanimous decision loss on his record — the first defeat he had tasted since 2014 — and he was no longer considered the best 170-pound fighter in the world.
Now 15 months later, Woodley is finally ready to return to action and while he’s certainly fired up and ready to fight again, it wasn’t an easy road traveled to get here.
“The switch didn’t switch instantly. It took months,” Woodley said about his comeback during the UFC on ESPN 9 media day on Thursday. “I went into a state of depression for a while. I really wasn’t talking to a lot of people. I was eating terrible. I wasn’t training.
“I felt like all my competition that I had before Kamaru Usman, I felt like that was the stiffest competition. I felt like all the great welterweights I had beaten before then were going to be my toughest competition. I didn’t take anyone lightly. I didn’t think it was going to be on cruise control at that point but I felt that I had that five rounds mapped out so well. I feel like my game plan, my strategy, my studying, my coaches, my team, I felt like I had everything in a position to win so I really had to deal with that and it took longer than any other fight in my career.”
According to Woodley, his performance against Usman was almost an out-of-body experience, which is why he still hasn’t gone back to watch that fight again.
“I just wasn’t in my body that night,” Woodley said. “I haven’t really watched the fight. I haven’t really focused too much on it just focused on moving forward from it. That’s what I’m doing right now.
“It’s kind of hard to elaborate. You have to just be in that moment. You have to be a fighter to understand. Every fighter’s had those fights where they just don’t feel they were in their own body. It’s very difficult to explain. Just know that I’m prepared, I’m focused and I’m ready to fight.”
The loss shattered a lot of Woodley’s expectations about his future, which likely led to the struggles he faced following that fight.
“I had to deal with the fact that I lost my belt,” Woodley said. “It was something that I didn’t expect to happen. I expected to retire as UFC champion after trying to chase down the record of Georges St-Pierre.”
While it took some time to recover from the Usman fight, Woodley eventually found his purpose again with a different kind of fire rekindled inside him as he got ready to make his return.
“I got to the point where I felt like I faced it head on,” Woodley explained. “I feel like I’m a better person, I’m a better fighter, I’m a better human being because of it and I feel like it was necessary for my journey.
“I’m coming out swinging. I’ve always come out swinging after a defeat but this time it’s a little bit different because I plan on making this a complete lifestyle change, the way that I’m taking the fight game and the way that my focus is really set back to that amateur Tyron Woodley that was trying to turn professional, that wanted to fight in the UFC, that wanted to be a champion, that wanted to reign, that wanted to be the greatest and now I’m out for everything right now.”
With just days remaining until he faces Burns in the UFC on ESPN 9 main event, Woodley still has plenty of goals left to achieve in the sport including his pursuit to reclaim the title.
First things first, Woodley has something to prove while sending a message to the rest of the welterweights in his division.
“Sometimes you get hit with some blocks and you’ve got to be able to evolve from that,” Woodley said. “So for me it was just basically reprioritizing my life and putting myself back in position where I can be the dominant champion I once was. It was a lot of refocusing and getting rid of things that didn’t belong in my circle, whether it was people, things I was doing, the time I went to sleep, what I was eating, how I was training. I just got back to the basics.
“Now I’m the Tyron Woodley that the fighters should be scared of and the fans should be excited to watch fight.”