In a year that has already proven to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Welterweight championship: Tyron Woodley (16-3) vs. Stephen Thompson (13-1)
Odds as of Nov. 5: Woodley +170, Thompson -200
Dana White's thoughts
"It's an interesting fight because Woodley did just knock out Robbie Lawler in the first round, which is super impressive. 'Wonderboy' Thompson has been on a tear, [having] just beat Rory MacDonald, and before that he beat Johny Hendricks in nasty fashion. So he beat two really good guys, and if you look at the size difference, 'Wonderboy' is so much bigger than Woodley in height and reach. It's a fun fight. This is in New York because it's a great fight. I wanted to build the best card we've ever done for Madison Square Garden in New York. Neither of these guys are from there, but this is just a great fight."
What's at stake?
Woodley says he got the "money fight" after all
One would think a first-round, highlight-reel knockout in a welterweight championship fight wouldn't get you booed ahead of your next fight.
Such is the case for Woodley, however, who acknowledges that he's headed into UFC 205 with a healthy amount of "trolls" in his wake. That's despite a spectacular performance against Lawler in June.
Woodley, who trains out of St. Louis and Milwaukee, believes it's mostly due to misunderstanding. He said fans are under the impression that he purposefully sat out and waited for his title shot against Lawler -- he went 17 months between fights -- but those fans forget he was supposed to fight Hendricks in October. The fight never happened because Hendricks experienced a poor weight cut.
After that, Woodley said the UFC made it pretty clear he was next in line. It just took a while for the promotion to tell him when he was fighting for the title.
"A lot of people, Stephen included, called it me waiting it out," Woodley said. "I had a full training camp to fight Hendricks. In January, I was told I was going to be fighting Robbie. So I thought I was just waiting on a date. [Declining matchups] never happened."
The negative fan reaction also likely stems from Woodley's comments immediately after winning the title, when he said he wished to have a "money fight" against Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz -- not necessarily Thompson. But again, Woodley said he accepted the Thompson fight the second it was offered to him, and as far as calling out St-Pierre, the former champ, who has said he intends to come out of retirement, Woodley won't apologize for that.
"Fighting is the only sport where fans don't understand this is our living," Woodley said. "If I have a chance to make a larger amount of money in a legacy fight against the No. 1 welterweight in history, it makes sense for me to want that fight. You have a lot of pay-per-view money coming to this company. Why shouldn't the champion partake in a piece of that pie?
"This fight is still a money fight, though. It's breaking records. Fans don't realize that I got what I wanted. I'm going to torch Stephen Thompson, and I made sure I get to do it in New York."
Thompson: The (Canadian) elephant in the room
Nine years ago, Thompson tore every ligament in his left knee. Doctors said his kickboxing career was likely over. In the end, they were right -- but not for the reasons they thought.
Thompson, 33, worked tirelessly to come back from the injury, but it took time. During that process, he started working with St-Pierre at Tristar MMA in Montreal. By the time the injury was completely healed, MMA had overtaken kickboxing as his primary focus.
"When I got injured, I wasn't really sure where my kickboxing career was taking me," Thompson said. "I had been fighting every weekend since I was 15. I was getting a little burned out, but then when they told me I might never fight again, it was crushing.
"I believe everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn't be where I am today without that injury. During that time, I transitioned to MMA, but I also got back a fire to compete. So when I did jump into MMA, I wasn't burned out at all anymore."
St-Pierre was around for a crucial period of Thompson's transition, which has an impact on his current situation. Thompson is favored to win the welterweight title over Woodley, and if he does, one of the biggest fights for him would be a defense against St-Pierre.
Thompson has already gone on record saying he believes St-Pierre would deserve a title shot, even though he hasn't fought since 2013. Due to the personal relationship with St-Pierre, it's not a fight he wants -- but he isn't ruling it out, either.
"He's a good buddy of mine," Thompson said. "He was a big part of my inspiration. I was fairly disappointed when I had to fight another Tristar guy in Rory MacDonald, and I definitely have a closer relationship with Georges than Rory.
"I wouldn't want that fight to be honest, but he is one of the best. If he does come back and wants to fight for the title and I'm there? May the best man win -- but I wouldn't want to be the one to call for that fight."
Woodley: 16-3 record (6-2 UFC); five of 10 previous champions have defended welterweight title at least once
Woodley: 68 percent significant strike defense, best among active UFC welterweights
Thompson: 13-1 record (8-1 UFC); seven-fight win streak
Thompson: 4.7 strikes landed per minute, sixth-highest among active UFC welterweights
There was a time not that long ago that Woodley's collegiate wrestling background would've been the X factor in this matchup. Today, however, that is no longer the case.
It's not that Woodley's wrestling can't (or won't) have an impact on this title fight, but it might better serve as a plan B. Thompson has not surrendered a takedown since 2012, which was also the last (and only) time he suffered a loss.
Thompson's size and style creates so much real estate between himself and an opponent. It's reasonable to think an experienced wrestler, who is used to that explosive first step -- that shot, if you will -- would have as good a chance as anyone to close through it. Woodley is as fast as they come, and that closing speed applies to his right hand as much as, if not more than, his double leg. Then again, the same could have been said about Hendricks when he fought Thompson -- and he was run out of the building.
Prediction: Thompson by third-round TKO