UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley could be cleared for a return as soon as Tuesday, when he will be examined by the doctor who surgically repaired his right hand, Woodley told ESPN on Monday. He also accused promotion president Dana White of singling him out for unfair criticism for not accepting a fight on the UFC's timetable.
"I never said no to Jan. 26. Let's get that on record," Woodley said during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, referring to UFC 233 in Anaheim, California, which has no main event or title bout scheduled. "I just asked for a little more time so I can go to my doctor tomorrow in Pensacola, Florida, and have him evaluate my hand -- the expert."
When White was asked Friday about the holdup in booking a fight for the top of the Jan. 26 card, he put the onus on his welterweight champ, saying, "When is Woodley ready to fight anybody ever?"
Woodley (19-3-1) dislocated his thumb and tore three ligaments during his Sept. 8 submission victory over Darren Till, his fourth defense of the 170-pound belt he won in 2016. He said he would like to fight at UFC 233, if he's cleared, and that in any event, he expects to return "in the first quarter of 2019."
UFC 233 had a scheduled main event, a superfight between bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and flyweight champ Henry Cejudo, but that bout was moved up one week to headline the promotion's debut on ESPN+.
Woodley responded to White's criticism by pointing out that his three most recent injuries have occurred in the middle of fights -- fights he went on to win.
"That's what a champion does," he said. "What a champion doesn't do is, he doesn't go out there with the injury. He doesn't go out there knowing he's not 100 percent and roll those dice."
Woodley's fight frequency is far from unusual among UFC champions. Of the promotion's 10 other belt-holders, only three have fought more recently than the welterweight champ. One is Daniel Cormier, who fought last month but holds up the queue at both heavyweight and light heavy. The other two competed just this past weekend: featherweight champ Max Holloway, who was coming off a yearlong absence, and new flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, who was fighting for the first time in 10 months.
Strawweight champ Rose Namajunas has not competed since April and has no return scheduled.
Woodley noted that White hasn't been critical of Namajunas, who is recovering from a neck injury.
"I've stepped up for the UFC many, many, many times, but at one point you've got to start monitoring your legacy, monitoring your title run, monitoring the way you want to be remembered," said Woodley, 36. "I take pride in being the best welterweight in the world, and I don't make money if I don't fight. But I'm not going to just go out there and fight for money. I fight for legacy first, and money is gonna come with it."