ST. LOUIS — Tyron Woodley was upset when he learned that his next fight would not be for the welterweight title.
Who could blame him? Woodley seemed to be in line for a shot at the championship when he beat No. 2 contender Carlos Condit last month. After all, the No. 1 contender, Johny Hendricks, already had grabbed the title (indefinitely vacated by Georges St-Pierre) with a victory over Robbie Lawler on the same card.
But instead of getting a shot at Hendricks, Woodley’s next fight will be against Canadian Rory MacDonald, currently ranked No. 2 to Woodley’s No. 4 in UFC’s welterweight rankings. Adding to the insult is that Woodley has to travel to MacDonald’s home turf in Vancouver for the June 15 bout.
"I was disappointed," Woodley admitted Wednesday morning at his Evolution gym in Rock Hill. "I felt like I deserved and earned the fight. I stepped to the plate and fought the No. 2 guy when nobody would fight him. I felt like I earned the fact to fight for the world title but we’ll see what happens."
As it turns out, Woodley wouldn’t have been fighting for the title anytime soon. Hendricks tore a biceps muscle during his title victory over Lawler and probably will not fight again until late this year.
Also, Woodley views MacDonald, St-Pierre’s long-time training partner, as a challenge he would have faced sooner or later.
"In my mind, I’m going to have to beat this kid anyway," Woodley said. "He’s going to keep chopping up the ladder and he would have been in position to fight for the title if I had been the champion. I’ll go and beat him in Vancouver, convincingly jump up to the official No. 1 contender’s spot and then I’ll fight Johny Hendricks when he heals up."
One thing Woodley makes clear is that his second-round victory over Condit was well-earned and not the result of a random knee injury, as some have implied (and the UFC must somewhat agree with; Condit is third ahead of Woodley in its rankings). When Woodley landed a kick to the back of Condit’s leg that stopped the bout, he knew Condit was hurting.
"After some of those hard punches I threw, he went back, didn’t have full control of his body and twisted it the wrong way," Woodley said. "That takedown probably finished him off. When I took him down, I heard him go, ah my knee. I knew something had happened to his knee. He was grimacing."
Smelling victory, Woodley went for the finish. The kick not only ended the fight but left Condit with a torn ACL and partially torn MCL. In the brutal sport of UFC, no one questioned Woodley’s strategy.
"I’m not out to injure the guy," Woodley said. "I’ve had ACL surgery myself. I know how long the recovery can be. But as a fighter, I have to go for the win."
Though Woodley had reason to believe if he beat Condit his next fight would be for the title, he already had sensed otherwise by the time he left American Airlines Arena after the fight. He noticed UFC president Dana White didn’t stick around for the entire post-fight pressers.
"If he was going to give it to me, I felt like he would have said it at the press conference," Woodley said. "But they were trying to figure it out."
With half a dozen legitimate contenders, there is plenty to figure out. Because of Hendricks’ injuries (he also fought with a fractured shin), the UFC now has time to sort out the title picture. Woodley has been told a victory in Vancouver will secure him a title shot. But he understands the business well enough to know that is far from a certainty.
He’s OK with his place in the game, too.
It’s not the first time he’s had to take a long road to success.
"I’ve had to prove myself over and over again in life," he said. "I actually get a weird little smile on my face when people doubt me because I’ve always statistically proved them wrong."
Waiting will do nothing to diminish his confidence, either.
"They can delay but they can’t deny," Woodley said. "If I have to go through one or two more guys, I’ll eventually get there. I’m going to be the champion."
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.