Tonight (July 29) at UFC 214, Demian Maia tried not once, not twice but 24 times to drag Tyron Woodley down to the ground, in a desperate attempt to turn their mixed martial arts fight into a grappling match, and failed each and every time. As a result, he was unable to offer much more than the occasional left cross and found himself on the unfortunate end of a unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46) at the bout’s conclusion. There was disappointment. There were boos. There were even chants of “boring, boring”. For Woodley, though, it was all in a night’s work. He remained UFC welterweight champion.
In truth, the pattern was set early. Maia, 39, aware of the need to take Woodley south, rattled through a range of different takedowns, most of them against the fence, only to be swatted away like an insect by a powerful champion with defence on his mind. He’d push him off, kick him off, shake him off, throw him off. Not once did Maia, 25-7, get close to completing a takedown. In fact, the likelihood of him getting his wish, taking Woodley down, diminished with each passing round.
This realisation sucked the life from a fight that started off intriguing and concluded to a chorus of boos produced by the sold-out Anaheim crowd. It was the sound of the drama ebbing away. It was the sound of Woodley executing his game plan.
Certainly, there was a sense the boos and the negative feeling was directed towards the champion rather than the challenger. Maia at least tried. He wanted to make a fight of it. He wanted to submit Woodley, 18-3-1. The Missouri-native, on the other hand, refused to take the necessary risk to finish the fight, or even make a fight of it, so aware was he of Maia’s grappling ability, and this reluctance seemed to infuriate the audience as the contest crawled its way to the finish line.
Thirty-five-year-old Woodley, no doubt, did the better work. He landed quality punches high and low, often stabbing right hands to Maia’s body, and also controlled the Octagon with confidence and ease. His takedown defence was a revelation; it didn’t allow Maia a slither of hope. But the reaction of the crowd suggested they wanted more from a champion. They didn’t want to watch a man content to stifle his opponent and refuse to engage him in his kind of fight. They wanted to see a man do that and then act on it. Go after him; punish him for his inability to take the fight to the ground. That’s what they wanted; what they felt they deserved.
Instead, what they got was another Woodley five-rounder in which he carefully and cleverly navigated his way to the judges’ scorecards and retained his title in the process. Worse than that, they got a title fight that featured fewer combined strikes than any other in UFC history.