“Some of the fans might not know this,” former UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans said on “The MMA Hour” this week, “but I was the original Tyron Woodley, as far as my relationship with (UFC President Dana White).”
This is pretty near to a statement of pure fact. It’s one of those things that rings so true that, when you hear it, you almost wonder why it even needs to be said.
If you were following this sport closely back in Evans’ heyday, you remember. You remember White’s nearly constant criticism of him. You remember Evans’ attempts to take a stand for the fights he wanted and against the ones he didn’t. You remember a fighter explaining that he was trying to build a personal brand while the guy whose job it was to promote him kept telling him that he didn’t have one.
You can’t blame Evans for looking at the current UFC welterweight champ’s public battle against White and seeing shades of his own past. This verbal back and forth between Woodley and White? The only real difference is that these days a lot of happens on the UFC’s own TV show.
Evans’ advice to Woodley is to abandon this particular fight – the one where Woodley and White argue over which title challenger will be next, or even which ones have been discussed – as an utterly unwinnable one. You can see where he might get that idea.
“It’s a hard thing to do because your ego gets involved,” Evans said. “You know (White’s) wrong, and you want to prove it. You might feel it’s because of this or because of that, and you want to expose the truth, but at the end of the day, at what expense? Your legacy, your chance to be remembered for what you love to do. At the end of the day, these are the things that make you hate fighting.”
This tells us more about Evans’ own regrets than it does about anything Woodley’s doing. It’s a glimpse of a man who wishes he hadn’t let himself get so caught up in the frustrating business of pro fighting that he forgot why he ever got started in it to begin with.
That’s understandable. It also makes you wonder what he thinks he could have done so differently – remember, this is the guy who used to get criticized for being cocky and also for being boring, sometimes in the same breath – and whether or not he’d even be capable of taking his own advice if he were in Woodley’s shoes today.
Part of the issue for Woodley is that he’s come too far down this path to just shut up and play nice. It probably wouldn’t help him any if he did, since fans and UFC management both seem to have made their minds up about him. Neither are known for their ready willingness to reconsider their own opinions.
There’s also this: As much as people say they’re sick of what they see as Woodley’s constant complaints, it’s easily the most interesting aspect of his UFC title reign.
Some of that is a consequence of how his last couple title defenses have gone. Woodley vs. Demian Maia? Or Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson II? If you ever want to feel like you hate fighting more than Evans ever did, go back and watch those.
But the thing keeping Woodley’s name in the headlines through all that is his willingness to speak his mind, even when fans hate what he’s saying. He’s polarizing enough that he makes people care, even when his fights do the opposite.
That still may not be ideal – in a perfect world, he’d rebrand himself as a swaggering Irishman with a better finishing percentage – but at least it’s something. It’s a reason for people to have an opinion on Woodley, and it’s a reason that springs from something genuine.
Evans might imagine an alternate reality for himself, one where he stays quiet and does whatever the UFC asks, but that’s no guarantee of success either. Not in this sport, where you can still get used and ignored and discarded even if you don’t stand up for yourself.
If that happened to you, then you might end up with a whole different set of regrets. And you might like those even less.
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