LAS VEGAS — A welterweight rivalry between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson appears to be over. Although a second fight between them was as close as the first, it’s unlikely they’ll ever do it again.
Woodley (17-3-1) ultimately emerged the winner, as he successfully defended his welterweight title with a majority decision over Thompson at UFC 209 on Saturday. Judges scored the fight for Woodley 48-47, 48-47 and 47-47. ESPN.com scored it 49-48 for Woodley.
The five-round bout was a rematch of a 170-pound title fight in November, which ended in a draw. But while that first meeting was an instant classic, with several momentum swings, the sequel inside T-Mobile Arena played out like a slow chess match, with very little action.
It all came down to the final minute, when Woodley knocked Thompson down with punches along the fence. Thompson managed to stand back up and survive the onslaught, but that brief flurry would keep the belt in Woodley’s possession.
“I was extremely nervous [about the scores],” Woodley admitted. “Stephen Thompson did a great job keeping space. He made it difficult. The last round, I went out for the kill. I knew it was close. I was just praying.”
Thompson (13-2-1) appeared to be ahead in the final round, right up until Woodley knocked him down. It was somewhat reminiscent of the fourth round of their first fight, when Woodley knocked him down twice with the right hand.
“I’m in this to fight the best, and he’s the champion for a reason,” Thompson said. “I had to play it smart. I thought I had it, but you know what? Live to fight another day.”
UFC president Dana White said in his postfight news conference that he actually scored the fight “3-2 the other way. I thought Wonderboy [Thompson] won 3-2.”
The Vegas crowd grew extremely restless early, especially after the first two rounds produced almost no action.
A former collegiate wrestler, Woodley circled the outside of the cage, blitzing forward only a handful of times with the right hand. Thompson stalked him around the perimeter but was hesitant to engage.
According to Fightmetric, Thompson landed just eight total strikes in the opening 10 minutes. Woodley landed nine.
In the third round, Woodley came out hunting a takedown and got one in the first minute. Thompson worked back to his feet, but it was the first real offense of the fight.
In the fourth, with the crowd chanting “fight,” Thompson scored a little with side kicks.
“It’s easy to sit in your seats and drink beer and popcorn. You’re not out there fighting Tyron Woodley or Wonderboy,” White said. “A lot was at stake. Those guys fought the way they needed to to win.”
The defending champion went into the fifth with a sense of urgency, which seemed to play into Thompson’s counter-striking style. Thompson scored with short counter punches and inside leg kicks before suffering the crucial knockdown.