What Tyron Woodley's call-out of Khabib Nurmagomedov says about him and 'The Eagle'

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
Former world champion Tyron Woodley is giving indication that he's willing to do whatever it takes to add to his already considerable legacy. (Stephen Maturen/Zuffa LLC)
Former world champion Tyron Woodley is giving indication that he's willing to do whatever it takes to add to his already considerable legacy. (Stephen Maturen/Zuffa LLC)

Former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley recently expressed a desire to fight current lightweight world champ Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, on his TMZ segment. The respectful call-out caught the MMA world a bit by surprise, and “The Chosen One” elaborated on why he’d like to fight the Dagestani during a Q&A session with fans in Vancouver last week.

“I just think that right now in my life and my career, I need the impossible. I need the stuff that nobody can do. I need the thing that’s going to motivate me beyond measure, and I think that he provides that,” he explained.

“He’s a beast.”

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Indeed, fresh off his submission win in Abu Dhabi over Dustin Poirier, Nurmagomedov looks more dominant than ever of late.

Plenty of logistical negotiations would need to be had in order for such a superfight to be made, of course. Woodley seemed willing to figure it all out, though, for the chance at feeling for himself what makes the undefeated champion so special.

“Obviously, I could never make 155 [pounds],” Woodley allowed.

“I’m already kind of alluding to handling business at welterweight and going up to middleweight. It would have to be something at a catchweight, it would have to be something that he would be interested in. He’s on top of the world right now. I might not even be an option for him. It’s more out of respect [for] what he can do. I know Dustin [Poirier]. He spars middleweights, light heavyweights, and for him to go out there and put on a performance like that against Dustin, I gotta see what it feels like.”

Calling out Nurmagomedov says a lot about both Woodley and the lightweight king. What it says about Nurmagomedov is that he’s gotten everyone’s attention, and that he’s a fighter’s fighter.

The MMA world is hyper-competitive and sometimes fighters can be reluctant to be effusive with praise of other athletes, at least the ones they have a chance of facing one day. His fellow UFC fighters aren’t even playing it cool when it comes to Nurmagomedov, though, these days.

Tyron Woodley (R) still wants history-making challenges. (Getty Images)
Tyron Woodley (R) still wants history-making challenges. (Getty Images)

He’s got featherweights like Max Holloway wanting to fight him, certainly all the lightweights, and now even a welterweight like Woodley who has actually considered moving up to middleweight.

The fact that someone so much larger than Nurmagomedov like Woodley feels comfortable calling him out must have something to do with the fact that he knows it won’t come off as bullying or looking for too easy of a fight. Why?

Because Nurmagomedov is just that dominant.

“The Eagle” does strange things to great fighters — out-strikes strikers like Conor McGregor, pins and controls very hard to wrangle people like Dustin Poirier. Woodley certainly wants a crack at Nurmagomedov’s new international star-power, but there’s no reason to doubt him when he says a big part of why he’d like the fight is just to experience something so rare — Nurmagomedov’s grappling ability — and, of course, to try and best it.

What Woodley’s comments say about him and where he’s at in his career now are also worth noting. He had a great contender and championship run at welterweight.

Woodley established himself as one of the most accomplished welterweights in history and, in his prime, perhaps the best overall one as well. He recently lost a unanimous decision and the welterweight strap to a younger fighter in new champion Kamaru Usman.

Woodley has talked about retirement in recent years, and after having accomplished so much and losing his title, it isn’t inconceivable nor would it be anything to be ashamed of if he decided he’d had enough and wanted to focus more on family, his academy and his entertainment careers. Woodley has been a high-level competitive athlete since childhood, and that’s a lot of time to keep focused and driven.

Yet, there’s indication that he’s far from burned out. Woodley is known to customize his training camps to his very specific needs.

He tells his coaches when and where he’ll be training. If he needs to take time to record some music to refresh himself mentally, he’ll do that.

If he wants to train near home in Missouri, he’ll do that. If he wants to go to Milwaukee to train at Roufousport, he’ll do that. If it’s Los Angeles that he wants to spend time in, that’s where the training will happen.

The fact that he's getting respectfully called-out by the likes of Tyron Woodley says a lot about lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. (Getty Images)
The fact that he's getting respectfully called-out by the likes of Tyron Woodley says a lot about lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. (Getty Images)

Now, he’s taking himself out of his comfort zone, going to Montreal to train with Firas Zahabi and his TriStar team, including fellow all-time great Georges St. Pierre, who Woodley went on to say he’s attempting to model himself after in terms of seeking out different training in between fights.

“[St. Pierre] took his time and his money and invested into himself, so I took that rubric and I did the same thing [for] me,” he went on, before comparing himself to the former welterweight and middleweight champ.

“I think naturally I’m faster, I think I punch harder, I think I kick harder, I think I wrestle better, I think we both mentally tough and I think if you match us at our prime, I think I win that fight.

After he couldn't book a fight against former welterweight & middleweight champ Georges St. Pierre, Woodley decided to train with him in Montreal. (Getty Images)
After he couldn't book a fight against former welterweight & middleweight champ Georges St. Pierre, Woodley decided to train with him in Montreal. (Getty Images)

“And I’ve always wanted to prove that. Not to you guys, but to myself because he was the king of the throne for a very long time. You can’t ever walk around and say you the greatest that ever did it knowing that this guy’s living, willing, able and competitive enough to still compete. So that’s why I was pushing for that fight [with St. Pierre]. Not so much for the money, I’m going to make money anyway. But so much more for myself, that I can prove that I am the greatest welterweight that’s ever walked around.”

After not being able to secure that bout, Woodley did something only a still-driven warrior would do — he went to train with “Rush.”

“Once I recognized that we were never gonna fight, then I said why not have us train? I’m going to get the same motivation, but now instead of 25 minutes, I can share weeks, hours, months, on picking his brain, swapping techniques, and now my legacy is based on who I beat, how I beat them, how long I reigned at the top, and that’s going to be my argument why I’m the greatest of all-time,” he detailed.

At 37 years of age, after over 13 years in the pro MMA ranks, Woodley is signaling that he still wants to be challenged in the gym by new training partners, and test himself against unexpected competition like Nurmagomedov.

Woodley still seems hungry. He already has a substantial legacy, of course, but it seems that he wants to build on it the way a young prospect wants to establish a reputation for the first time.

When a future Hall of Famer shows the hunger of a rookie, it’s something we should all be paying attention to.

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