On March 4th, 2017 the fight capital of the world will play host to one of the most sorely needed rematches in MMA history. Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley looks to defend his title by turning away challenger Stephen Thompson – this time with a win and not a draw.
Headlining the most stacked card the UFC has put out since 205 is the rematch of that night’s co-main event. A five-round war culminating in a majority draw left incumbent Champion Woodley with his belt and a bitter pill to swallow. Luckily for him, and any fan worth their weight in salt, he has a chance to right the judges’ wrong and prove himself as the definitive Welterweight King.
Many have argued about the veracity of the majority draw that so muddied their first encounter. Some say Woodley clearly beat “Wonderboy” with two knockdowns and a significant amount of ground control. Others claim Thompson’s active pot shots and jabs stole him enough rounds to eek out a decision. Regardless of what camp you fall into there isn’t a real fan out there who is disappointed in this rematch. For once, in recent memory, it is actually warranted.
Instead of recapping the entire fight lets look at the major takeaways. It seems that a defining moment in their first fight occurred at the midway point of round one. After Woodley was able to catch Thompson’s leg kick he retained a dominant position on top for the remainder of the round.
After that first round, “Wonderboy” threw markedly less kicks than usual and relied, perhaps overly, on his boxing. That being said following the first takedown Woodley was no longer able to drag the South Carolinian back to the mat (besides when he pulled guard).
Thompson’s shift into a boxing-heavy approach and the threat of the Missouri Native’s takedown (to say nothing of his power) are the obvious highlights in their first encounter. The very nature of a rematch means that these strengths and weaknesses will be pored over and exploited or avoided at length.
Some could argue that “The Chosen One” was successful on the feet only because Thompson had to limit his kicking game. They claim that if “Wonderboy” had held the Champion at the end of his kicks Woodley’s ability to close distance quickly would have been nullified i.e. he would have to been too far to explode into range. That being said, unless Thompson addresses the ATT Evolution product’s wrestling he might as well forgo kicking altogether.
These will be the two things to watch in the rematch. How much will “The Chosen One” wrestle (a facet of the game wherein he holds a huge skills gap)? And how much will the Karate specialist kick, if it all (a place where he holds an equal advantage in terms of prowess)? If any one man can drag or coerce the fight into taking place in their wheelhouse their odds of winning increase significantly.
Rematches are all about adjustments. It is often said that the loser of a rematch gains an advantage because they can more readily improve upon the myriad of things they did wrong.
But when the first fight ends in a majority draw who has the upper hand? Might we see another drawn out contest with neither man gaining a significant edge? Or could we see a one-sided trouncing wherein either athlete implements a superior game plan?
The answers lies within the minds of the headliners of UFC 209 and also their coaches. Whichever team walked away from UFC 205 with the greatest amount of insight, provided of course that the athlete puts that wisdom into practice, will be the ones celebrating in the twilight hours of March 5th.