Woodley still seeks new opponent as UFC London falls apart

(UPDATE: The UFC announced in an email to its employees late Monday afternoon that the organization has officially postponed its next three scheduled events indefinitely amid the evolving COVID-19 crisis, meaning the search for Woodley’s next opponent became redundant)

Tyron Woodley insists he will be fighting this weekend at a UFC event that, as of early Monday afternoon, has no confirmed location.

A Fight Night event originally scheduled to take place March 21 in London, England fell apart after new international travel restrictions were implemented by the United States government in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The UFC announced the event would be relocated — likely to the U.S. — and Woodley’s original opponent, Leon Edwards, confirmed he would not be able to compete amid all the ongoing changes to the card.

“Yes, yes, yes, I am fighting Saturday, let’s start by that,” Woodley said in a video posted to his Instagram account. “Appreciate you fans. I’m fighting Saturday. Who I’m fighting, I don’t know. … I was gonna go out there (to London) into an empty arena, I don’t give a (expletive). I’ve been training, I’m in pure murder mode.”

Three notable fighters publicly offered to take on Woodley on short notice Sunday. They were Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Rafael Dos Anjos.

Woodley said Sunday that Covington, the former interim welterweight champion, would not actually accept the fight and claimed his call-out was merely for publicity and to gain clout.

Covington disputed that in a Monday interview with ESPN.

“Right now, it’s still being discussed,” Covington told Ariel Helwani. “As far as I know, Tyron Woodley might have said, ‘yes.’ I think so. I know he’s ducked me a lot in the past. But I think he’s said yes and he’s onboard.

“If the UFC doesn’t give the people what they want, that’s a shame. There’s a reason I’m the people’s champ. The people called for this fight, so they need to make this fight happen.”

Burns knocked out Demian Maia this past Saturday in the main event of a 12-fight card the organization held behind closed doors in Brasilia, Brazil. However, Burns tweeted Monday that Woodley did not accept his challenge.

Dos Anjos is a former lightweight champion who fought Covington for the interim welterweight title in 2018 and is currently ranked as the No. 8 challenger in the 170-pound division.

Woodley has not competed since losing the title to Kamaru Usman in March 2019.

Even if the UFC can find Woodley a suitable opponent, staging an event during a time when all other major sports leagues have suspended action indefinitely presents an entirely different set of obstacles.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission announced over the weekend that all combat sports events will be suspended until March 25, which means the UFC won’t be able to hold an event at its UFC APEX facility at company headquarters in Las Vegas until then. The California State Athletic Commission also suspended combat sports events until at least March 31.

Various tribal reservations in California or in Alabama reportedly would be possible locations for an event this upcoming weekend as the UFC could circumvent athletic commission regulations in those places.

“Unless there’s a total shutdown of the country, where people can’t leave their houses and things like that, these fights will happen,” UFC president Dana White said over the weekend after UFC Brasilia. “Obviously things are changing by the hour. This morning, they announced new travel restrictions for the U.K., so the fight obviously can’t continue in London. But the fight will go on. We’re working on finding a new venue, likely in the United States, and I have my matchmakers literally working right now to put together the under card.”

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