LAS VEGAS — By any stretch, Tyron Woodley has had a remarkable MMA career, which makes his two most recent losses that much more puzzling.
Woodley lost his welterweight title to Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 on March 2, 2019, in Las Vegas, and was never really in the fight. He was listless and without spark and was hammered by Usman for five one-sided rounds.
He returned against Gilbert Burns on May 30 at Apex and it was more of the same. Burns opened a big cut over Woodley’s eye and then went on to dominate and take a lopsided decision.
Given that Woodley is 38, the easy answer is to suggest that he’s hit the end of the line and that he’s no longer the fighter he once was.
Woodley, who fights arch rival Colby Covington on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 11, scoffs at that notion.
His poor performances were reflective of the chaos going on in his private life.
“One part of my life was just all over the place,” Woodley told Yahoo Sports. “Outside looking in, people think, ‘This kid’s got everything going on. He does well on the microphone. He’s got all these other careers that are exploding. He’s won the title.’ … I had all this stuff going. I was making all this money and stuff.
“But my personal life was chaotic. It was all over the place. I was still able to compete and I don’t even know how. It’s a true testament to God. This is going back as far as the Kelvin Gastelum fight [in 2015]. And it was also Robbie [Lawler], Stephen [Thompson], [Demian] Maia and [Darren] Till. On the outside, it looked one way. But behind the curtain, which I don’t think is anyone’s business, it was different. The fact that I still won was remarkable. But everything catches up to you.”
Woodley wouldn’t go into the personal details, but he’s a highly intelligent and thoughtful person who is deeply involved in causes outside of his sport. He’s active in the civil rights movement and has been since teenager Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Woodley, who is from Ferguson, became outspoken in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police misconduct against people of color.
He was injured before the Burns fight and said Burns kicked him in the spot where he was injured, then kept going after it. Plus, there was turmoil in the U.S. after the George Floyd shooting with protests in the streets and Woodley’s heart and mind were with the protesters.
As he was fighting, he vowed not to be stopped as he bonded with the protesters.
“I really don’t feel I lost that fight,” he said. “Most importantly, I ran out of time. I never gave up hope of winning that fight. I never thought he was going to stop me. I never thought he was going to knock me out. I was never going to succumb to the thought of him finishing me, especially with everything that was going on at the time.
“My people were fighting for their freedom and I was like, ‘Man, I can’t let this dude finish me. My people are out there fighting for their freedom and so I’ve got to stand here and fight.’ I don’t regret those losses because they put me where I’m at right now.”
Where he’s at it seems, on the surface, is in a tough spot. Covington is an elite wrestler with outstanding cardio and seems to have the tools to defeat Woodley, particularly this version of him.
Oddsmakers have made Covington a large favorite. At the MGM Grand Sports Book, Covington is a -350 favorite. Woodley is +275.
Woodley said he learned from his losses and feels they’re in the past. If Covington thinks he’s in for an easy fight, Woodley said he’s in for a big surprise.
“I needed those lessons I took in those fights to put myself in position,” he said. “Now, I’m back. I’m back where I need to be. I’m back in my right place. This fight is happening at the right time.”
That remains to be seen. But what we know about Woodley is that when he’s healthy and focused, he’s among the greatest welterweights in the sport’s history.
When he’s not, well, Usman and Burns showed what could happen.
Woodley is good enough to finish Covington, but Covington is also good enough to dominate Woodley.
In the end, it likely will come down to which Tyron Woodley shows up.
More from Yahoo Sports: