You have to understand where Dana White was coming from with Tyron Woodley.
The UFC had just wrapped up its 200th marquis show with what was essentially a dud. The massively hyped Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier rematch was scrapped at the last second due to Jones testing positive for performance enhancers, Brock Lesnar’s return against Mark Hunt was not only boring, but also tainted by Lesnar’s failed test revealed shortly after the event, inciting a lawsuit from his opponent Mark Hunt, and the hugely marketable Meisha Tate was quickly taken care of in the main event by the Brazilian with poor english, Amanda Nunes. To top it all off, megastar Ronda Rousey was still M.I.A. after her shocking lost to Holly Holm the year prior, and the biggest star in the sports’ history, Conor McGregor, had just lost for the first time in the UFC, and would forever have a tarnished legacy if he was unable to top Nate Diaz in the rematch 2 months later.
Dana White had lost his second (Rousey), third (Jones), fourth (Lesnar), and maybe seventh or eighth (Tate) biggest stars for an unknown amount of time, was facing a lawsuit that was far from a slam dunk for him, and his number one money maker star stood on a slippery slope, and to top it all off, was also dealing with the sale of the UFC, losing the Fertitta Brothers, his partners from the very beginning, while also juggling with meeting and appeasing the new ownership group, headed by WME-IMG.
The one guy Dana could rely on, however, was still standing. Robbie Lawler had been in the UFC/Strikeforce system for almost 15 years, with his first UFC fight going all the way back to 2002. He was one of the most exciting fighters around, with a finishing rate of over 75 percent. He recently became a much more significant name in the sport when his rematch with Rory McDonald was the co-main event at UFC 189, a card headlined by Conor McGregor, that would sell very well, and his brutal, bloody slugfest TKO victory over Rory McDonald would go down as potentially the greatest UFC fight of all time. He wasn’t a megastar, but he was well loved by the hardcores, could sell a card decently well all by himself, and would always put on a good fight. He was like the Hyundai Sonata of fighters. Popular, but not too popular, and dependable (no, that comparison is not a stretch).
The last thing Dana needed at UFC 201, the event sandwiched between the biggest trainwreck of the past few years and the most important money making fight of the company’s history, was more negative changes to deal with.
Enter Tyron Woodley.
Woodley was granted a title shot as a reward for winning a tough 4 out of 5 fights from 2013 to 2015, in which he knocked out premier opponents Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, and Dong Hyun Kim, and after Johny Hendricks pulled out of a premier title eliminator. He was promised that he would be next in line after Robbie Lawler fought Carlos Condit in January of 2016. Tyron waited 9 months. He could have taken a fight in between (and was pushed to do so), but he knew his title shot was guaranteed, and he decided to wait it out. On July 30th, 2016, at UFC 201, Tyron quickly, and easily, knocked out Robbie Lawler with one strong right hand followed by a few short finishing ground strikes.
Another thing went wrong for Dana.
White now had a weird situation on his hands. He had just lost another golden boy, and his new champion at a premier weight class has shown that he is willing to go against wishes of management for his own well being. Dana has never liked being challenged, and even though Woodley’s denial to fight wasn’t meant as a slight, it could still be taken as such.
Fast forward to UFC 205, where Tyron Woodley engages in one of the most exciting fights of the year against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Despite nearly finishing him with a knockdown and a deadly guillotine choke, Woodley walks away from the fight as defending champion via draw. Despite the lackluster result (which, by the way, isn’t his fault, and also demonstrated a severe problem with round by round scoring that we will hopefully cover in another article soon), the fight was still very impressive, and triggered a rematch in March of the following year
This was the first severe falter.
The fight was a snooooooozer. Aside from one exciting moment in the final round, where Woodley rocked Wonderboy, nothing really happened the whole fight. Tyron pulled out the win via a majority decision (could you imagine if it was another draw?) and Dana White was furious, going as far as to say publicly that he thought Woodley lost the fight.
It got a lot worse at UFC 214 when Woodley fought Damien Maia. Nobody knew that Tyron actually tore his labrum almost immediately, all they knew was that they were watching one of the most boring fights in a very long time. At one point, all the fans began waving their phone flashlights throughout the Honda Center. Woodley won by a very boring unanimous decision, but from a fighting perspective, at the very least, we witnessed one of the most amazing demonstrations of takedown defense in the sport’s history. Damien Maia, one of the best takedown artists in the game, did not manage a single successful takedown in 25 minutes and over 20 attempts. Woodley completely shut down the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master with only one shoulder.
Dana didn’t really see the silver lining.
White once again blasted Woodley to the media. He formally announced that he was no longer going to let Woodley fight Georges Saint-Pierre in what would otherwise be the biggest payday of his career. He said that “nobody would want to watch him fight” and continued to bury him to multiple sources every time he was asked about him.
This time, Tyron Woodley pushed back. He demanded a public apology from Dana over his comments, and even issued a threat that he would start, “leaking s***” otherwise.
Finally, last Saturday, at UFC 228, Tyron Woodley took on Darren Till for his fourth title defense. The “Vanilla Gorilla” Till was the UFC’s next big homegrown star. He was loved by the fans, was massively entertaining in the octagon and on the mic, and was strongly backed by the English fanbase. The UFC hadn’t created a star from scratch since Conor McGregor. They needed this.
Once again, Tyron Woodley had to ruin Dana’s day.
Woodley knocked down Darren Till seconds into the second round, and quickly went to work from the ground. He landed hard shots, and eventually locked up a choke to submit Till and defend his belt once again.
The look on Dana’s face from the audience is one of pure disappointment.
Dana didn’t show up at the post fight press conference, and didn’t provide a reason, something he basically never does. He has apparently still failed to reach out at all to Tyron following his victory. It has become a personal grudge at this point.
The biggest problem with this grudge against Woodley is that he is probably the most ideal champion around. He promotes himself heavily, he has his own show affiliated with TMZ, he has a tremendous finishing rate, he has a marketable background, he is an entertaining person to listen to, he has been dominant, and he has never gotten into legal trouble, he is a minority, he is a good family man. He is basically everything the UFC should be looking for.
Why would you step over him to create a marketable champion, when he is already a marketable champion?
The fact of the matter is that this has sadly gone way beyond the fighter at this point. This issue is deeply rooted in Woodley’s first defiance. Dana White has always been one to hold grudges (see Paul Daley, Tito Ortiz, Mario Yamasaki, to name a few) and Tyron is not unique. It is almost silly to expect him to go back on this stance at this point, but should he?
Yeah, yeah he should.