Coach Din Thomas confident Tyron Woodley can reclaim UFC title, sees long road ahead

Tyron Woodley struggled to get his feet underneath him during his UFC welterweight championship defense against Kamaru Usman at UFC 235, but despite the loss, Woodley and coach Din Thomas are confident Woodley will regain the title, given the chance. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Tyron Woodley's longtime head coach, Din Thomas, is very confident they can reclaim the UFC welterweight championship -- provided they get the opportunity.

Woodley (19-4-1) lost his 170-pound title to Kamaru Usman (15-1) via unanimous decision at UFC 235 last weekend, and he has already called for an immediate rematch. The UFC has indicated Colby Covington will receive the next title shot, however, which leaves Woodley's next move up in the air.

It's no secret that Woodley, 36, occasionally butted heads with UFC executives during his 2½-year title reign, and Thomas believes that might have an effect on his road back to the top.

"I think it will be a tougher road getting it back than it was the first time," Thomas told ESPN. "I think the UFC is really going to make him work for it. I never really felt the UFC appreciated him as a champ. I could be wrong, but I never felt that way. And I think they're gonna make him work to get another chance.

"I think they'll make him fight another three fights before a title shot. What he'll be willing to do, is take another fight and say, 'Listen, if I knock this guy out like I'm capable of doing, you should give me the title shot.' What I see happening is them telling him he needs to fight a couple times and them going back and forth over it for awhile."

Woodley's performance against Usman in Las Vegas left a lot to be desired. Woodley admitted as much immediately after, saying he simply couldn't get going. Thomas agrees with that sentiment.

"He seemed focused and OK in the locker room," Thomas said. "But 10 seconds into fight when he backed up to the fence, I said, 'Oh no.' And when he went for the guillotine and got taken down, I said, 'Oh no,' because that wasn't something we practiced. That's when I knew there might be a problem."

Thomas, who also has a close relationship with UFC president Dana White, said he doesn't know why Woodley was flat. While he acknowledges a strained relationship between Woodley and the UFC, he has never blamed either side for it. Thomas did say he feels Woodley would not have come out flat had he fought Covington, whom he preferred over Usman as an opponent.

"Tyron, he's kind of a martyr in a sense," Thomas said. "A lot of the things he's fought for himself, will help future fighters. Standing up for himself and not accepting every deal, that might have hurt him now, but I think in the long run, it will be good for fighters in the future.

"He wasn't a company man and he stood by his guns. He never settled for less than he felt he deserved. Now that he's not the champ anymore, it may be a problem. I do think, had he fought Colby, he would have been more motivated to perform. I know that for a fact, actually. But that's not an excuse for his performance against Usman. I just know he would have been motivated to hurt Colby."

According to Thomas, his goals for Woodley going into last weekend were Usman, Covington, a run at a middleweight championship, and then probably retirement. Now, however, Thomas says the goal is to reclaim the welterweight belt, after which there would be little left to prove.

"I was hoping after he won the middleweight belt, he could defend it and then call it quits," Thomas said. "I was looking at maybe a year or two left in his career. I think he's got much more to give to the world than fighting inside a cage. I believe we take another run at the welterweight belt, see how that goes.

"If he can get back to the title again, that would probably solidify him back in the talk of the greatest welterweight of all time. A couple bad performances can't define his career. After that, he would have nothing left to prove. The only thing I think he can do now is make a run back to the belt."