Based purely on fan reaction, it would appear UFC welterweight belt-holder Tyron Woodley isn’t the most popular champion in the UFC.

But there’s no more athletic specimen holding a championship belt right now, and his quest for respect continues tonight when he puts his 170-pound title on the line against Brazilian jiujitsu ace Demian Maia.

Without over-simplifying things, Maia is the most lethal specialist in the UFC’s welterweight division. His striking, though improved, is rudimentary, but if he gets you to the mat, it’s like trying to swim in quicksand… with a boa constrictor around your neck.

Maia’s submission skills are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the UFC, and if he gets his hands on Woodley on the mat, it may very well be game over for the champ.

But a look at Woodley’s athletic credentials shows he has all the qualities required to avoid Maia’s fight-finishing mat skills.

The 5-foot-9 Woodley is one of the shortest welterweights in the UFC. Usually that’s a disadvantage, but here his lower center of gravity could well prove a benefit.

Woodley’s wrestling skills, both offensive and defensive, should help keep Maia guessing while also offering the sort of takedown defense that should keep the Brazilian at bay.

And Woodley’s lightning-quick hands and prodigious punching power give him a huge advantage on the feet. He’ll have to get inside Maia’s reach, but Woodley’s explosiveness and quick feet should allow him to mount blitz-style in-and-out attacks, launching forward in a blaze of heavy-handed strikes before retreating.

Maia’s elite-level grappling is a huge weapon, but when it comes to all the crucial areas - speed, power, striking and takedown attack/defense - the Brazilian looks outgunned. A Maia victory would certainly provide a feel-good moment within the sport, such is the respect offered to the Brazilian veteran. But I just can’t see the cerebral Woodley allowing himself to end up with his back on the mat against the grappling phenom.

"The Chosen One" has yet to register a dominant victory as champion, but I have a feeling that moment could come tonight.

PICKS
Woodley to win
Woodley by knockout/TKO


Follow Simon Head on Twitter @simonhead.


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