For years, Tyron Woodley was used to it. He heard people call him "champion." He had the belt and all the accolades that came with it. He had it all for over two years. And it's not that he became complacent, but in some ways it seemed like he forgot what it was like to not be the champion.
Then, a month ago, that all changed. Kamaru Usman stuck with Woodley for all five rounds, beating him via unanimous decision. And all of a sudden, everything Woodley had become accustomed to was about to change.
"Sometimes we can try and act like we got it all made and everything's figured out, but s---, I told myself I didn't really worship the belt and I didn't worship the belt, but you don't recognize until you lose the belt how many things were tied into the belt," Woodley said on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on Monday. "How much opportunities and your platform and exposure, not to mention the amount of money you make and the pay-per-view [earnings]. You know, not that I'm going to stop getting invited to cool parties or collab with some real G's in music because of who I am.
"But you forget."
The past month has been a realization of that. Of everything he had worked to, had defended for four fights. How difficult it was to lose, something he hadn't done since June 14, 2014. Woodley said he hasn't watched the full Usman fight -- "there's no point in watching it" -- but from the clips he saw, it was like "I wasn't even there." All a viewing of it would do is frustrate him and make him realize what an opportunity he squandered and how painful losing is.
Woodley realized it immediately after the loss, when he didn't want to promote his new album because of all the references it made to being a champion. He realized it later, sitting at the broadcast desk at a UFC event and hearing Megan Olivi and Karen Bryant introduce him as a former champion.
Eventually, he told himself it was still "appropriate" to promote his album because he is always going to be a champion, even if he doesn't hold the current title.
But initially it all stunned him and made him feel uncomfortable. He saw people he's known for a while who used to call him "Champ" now unsure of what exactly to call him. He thought about all the work it took him to reach that point. And now it was like something was missing -- because there was something no longer there.
Not surprisingly, he would like a shot to get it back.
"Now I got to do similar to what Georges St. Pierre did when he lost to Matt Hughes and had to come back and avenge that, and lost to Matt Serra and had to come back and avenge that," Woodley said. "I thought that everything was on the up-and-up now -- don't have to struggle this much with the promotion, don't have to struggle this much with the game plan. Had that pretty much down.
"Not that I got comfortable, but I thought my days of struggling was over. But they keep telling me the comeback is going to be so severe, it's going to be so vicious that God had to [bring] me to this point. And when I come back, I'm not going to be able to even imagine what's in store for me. So that's kind of where I'm at mentally right now."