ST. LOUIS — Tyron Woodley isn’t quite sure when the UFC will call about his next fight, but he knows what he wants to hear.
Something like this: "How would you like to take on Matt Brown in the co-main event before a Johny Hendricks-Robbie Lawler title fight? And if you win, you get your shot at the title."
Woodley, in fact, has been calling for such a scenario since shortly after he knocked out Dong Hyun Kim last Saturday in Macau. Woodley believes his first-round victory has put him right back on track for a shot at the welterweight championship after his disappointing loss to Rory MacDonald in June. If all goes according to Woodley’s plan, he’d get a shot at Brown, beat him and then fight for the title in 2015.
Pitting Woodley against Brown would match two fighters who earlier this year were both a win away from being in line for a title shot. Both lost, however, and now have to fight their way back into the picture. The way Woodley sees it, after a fight between Brown and him, "somebody is going to get back on track. I plan on it being me."
Unfortunately for Woodley, UFC president Dana White appears to have other ideas. He told ufc.com Thursday that he wants Woodley to fight sixth-ranked Hector Lombard and that Lombard already has agreed to the fight.
"We’re just waiting to hear from Woodley," White said. "Lombard said he would fight him, no problem."
White might have to wait a while.
After fighting twice in a 10-week stretch this summer, Woodley isn’t in a big rush to return to the ring, especially for a fight that would not be his first choice. He said Thursday he wants to spend time with his family in St. Louis, pursue a couple of movie opportunities and make sure his next bout makes sense for his career.
He took the fight against the No. 10-ranked Kim on semi-short notice because he needed to rebound from his loss to MacDonald. Woodley went in knowing the risks of taking on an opponent ranked lower than him. A loss would have severely set back his goal of fighting for the title. Kim was on a four-fight winning streak and would be the crowd favorite.
But Woodley responded by dispatching a reckless Kim in just 61 seconds. Hoping to catch his opponent off-guard, Kim tried a spinning back fist but Woodley was more than ready. Just as Kim began to spin, Woodley connected with a right to the temple that stunned, then dropped the South Korean. Woodley moved in with a barrage of rights and lefts before the official jumped in and halted the bout.
The convincing win was just what Woodley needed to get re-established in the title picture. Earlier this week he moved from fourth to third in the rankings, just behind the man who beat him in June, MacDonald. Carlos Condit, whom Woodley beat earlier this year, is fourth, just ahead of Brown and Lombard.
Hendricks and Lawler, the No. 1 contender, are expected to stage a rematch for the title that Hendricks claimed with a unanimous decision in March, but no date has been set. MacDonald, meanwhile, is scheduled to fight ninth-ranked Tarec Saffiedine in October. If MacDonald were to lose, Woodley could jump him in the rankings by beating Brown or Lombard.
Woodley could end up granting White his wish and agreeing to meet Lombard. But with a successful year, fresh contract and lofty ranking in hand, Woodley should be in position to dictate what he does next. What he doesn’t need is to accept a fight that would not lead directly to a title opportunity.
"I did that (against Kim) because I needed an opportunity to redeem myself after that recent loss," he said. "But I’m one of the pillars of the welterweight division. I shouldn’t be a guy who takes last minute. I want to be more strategic on my fights and what’s going on."
He also palns to keep improving. Woodley, 32, was an All-American wrestler at Missouri and has become a proficient puncher who often uses a couple of weeks during training camp to spar with pro boxers. Next he wants to refine his martial arts skills, an area he admits isn’t his strong suit.
"As a fighter, you want to be as well-rounded as possible," he said. "I’m confident enough and honest enough to say that I’m not there yet. I’m not the best Tyron Woodley that I can be. I have holes in my game that I want to cover up before someone finds them. You don’t want to wait and get in front of that person who has that ability to push you into uncomfortable positions. You want to solve those problems and get those things taking care of so when you get in that position, there’s no anxiety. You fight through it and move forward."
Though he isn’t sure where he’s going next, there is little doubt that Woodley again is moving forward to his goal of being the welterweight champion.