This Saturday’s landmark UFC 205 pay-per-view is history making for a few reasons. It’s not just the first mixed martial arts card to take place in New York City, and not just the first to take place at Madison Square Garden. It’s also the first UFC card to feature three title fights, including a co-main event for the welterweight title between champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson.
Strengths: When it comes to having power in his hands, Woodley might be second to none in all of the UFC. Don’t believe me? Ask Robbie Lawler. A single punch was all it took for Woodley to dethrone Lawler at UFC 201 and take the welterweight title. So out of Woodley’s six victories in the UFC, five have come by way of knockout. Woodley lands half of his significant strikes per minute, so it’s usually not long before Woodley’s opponents find themselves knocked cold. Woodley also has an elite takedown defense rate of 91.7 percent, which means you should basically forget about taking him to the mat.
Weaknesses: Although Woodley has stepped in the Octagon with fighters like Lawler, Condit and Rory MacDonald, Thompson is a whole new level of competition. Woodley hasn’t faced someone with Thompson’s skillset – a kickboxer of the highest order who can basically score a knockout from anywhere at any time. Just ask Jake Ellenberger or Johny Hendricks. Can Woodley handle Thompson’s unorthodox striking? Can he keep up with Thompson’s movement? Thompson will look to create angles to hit Woodley from areas he isn’t expecting. It’s up to Woodley to keep up the pressure and not give Thompson space to use his kicks.
Strengths: As I just said, Thompson is a new breed of striker. He translated his success in kickboxing into MMA and can knock his opponent out from almost anywhere. He knocked out Jake Ellenberger with a head kick and knocked out someone considered by many to be tough to finish in Hendricks, in the first round. Thompson’s long reach and excellent use of angles means he can come at his opponent from almost any angle. Thompson is basically Woodley’s equal when it comes to defending takedowns, as Thompson stuffs them almost 81.5 percent of the time.
Weaknesses: Although Thompson has prevailed over power punchers like Ellenberger and Hendricks, both of those fighters were considered on the decline or otherwise disadvantaged when they stepped into the Octagon with Thompson. But Woodley is in his prime, and has power that Ellenberger and Hendricks can’t match. Can Thompson keep his distance from Woodley and avoid that power punch? Thompson is also the betting favorite in this fight; will he also underestimate Woodley and does he already consider his victory a foregone conclusion?
This is a really unique match-up that is a little difficult to describe. Just calling it a straight-up stand-up fight kind of oversimplifies it. Basically, Woodley has to close the distance with Thompson. He has to put the pressure on and hit hard and hit often, and knock Thompson off his game. Thompson has to keep moving, establish Octagon control and use his reach and his kicks to keep Woodley’s powerful fists at bay. I see this either going the distance or ending with a knockout – I don’t see much middle ground. Ultimately, I think this fight has a finish, and I think Woodley will do the honors and keep his belt.
Winner: Woodley by TKO
Photo Credit: Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images