The second came against Gilbert Burns, who’s victory catapulted him into a championship fight against Usman, where he tagged the champion in the early moments of the contest before the Nigerian-born titleholder gathered himself, regrouped, and garnered a third-round stoppage win.
And his most recent setback came opposite Colby Covington, the polarizing perennial contender who pushed Usman to his limit in their title clash at UFC 245.
In each instance, those men looked at their date with Woodley as a chance to reach the next level and further their championship ambitions, while the battle-tested former champion struggled to view things the same way.
“I was the biggest opponent for all those guys and I was the biggest fight of their life,” began the former champion. “I needed to make them the biggest fight of my life, but it’s tough to do that when I’ve had the (Darren) Till fight, the Carlos (Condit) fight, the Robbie (Lawler) fight, the (Josh) Koscheck fight. I had all these different fights that were the biggest fights of my life and these guys didn’t have that same notoriety.
“I was one of the most active champions and I had to take a little step away from it for a minute so I could love it again,” continued Woodley, who dealt with myriad injuries during the course of his title reign. “Those guys, their motivations to beat me, what I was — they wanted to have that notch on their belt, and they made up the gap; their skill-level increased and they came into the Octagon more focused.”