Sean Woodson (7-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) will look to rebound from his lone professional loss when he competes against Youssef Zalal (10-4 MMA, 3-2 UFC) at UFC Vegas 28 on June 5.
Sean Woodson vs. Youssef Zalal
Woodson likes the featherweight match-up with Zalal, saying that it’s a contest between two exciting fighters.
“I always love to strike,” Woodson said. “He, in most of his fights, loves to strike. But I 100 percent believe he’s coming to grapple this fight. As far as how I see it going, I see us standing up for about 20 seconds and me defending the takedown, and me doing everything I can to keep the fight on the feet.”
Woodson predicts the fight will be a striking match, but only because of his takedown defense.
“I see him possibly gassing himself out trying to pursue the takedown too hard or maybe him getting caught in a submission himself trying to pursue the takedown too hard,” Woodson said. “Maybe another flying knee like my Contender Series with him going for the takedown.”
It was a flying knee that got Woodson to the big show after he knocked out Terrance McKinney in July 2019. “The Sniper” believes Zalal may have a similar approach to what ultimately failed McKinney in his contest with Woodson.
“I know [Zalal’s] going to be real takedown heavy in this fight. If I don’t submit him when he’s trying to get a takedown, then I’m going to pick him apart on the feet until he breaks. I don’t see it going to the judges, that’s for sure.”
Woodson said he knows it’s cliche to say that a fight will not go to the judges’ scorecards. But he also feels that both he and Zalal’s backs are against the wall heading into their bout, as Woodson is coming off his first professional loss, and Zalal has dropped two in a row.
“I watched a recent interview of his, and he was real big on the ‘This fight is kill or be killed,’ and I feel the same way,” Woodson said. “If he’s not just talking and not just saying that, and that’s the real energy he’s coming with, then yeah, this is definitely gonna be one of those fights where the judges won’t be needed.”
Rebounding From His First Loss
Woodson has not fought since his third-round D’Arce choke loss to Julian Erosa in June 2020. He was set to meet Jonathan Pearce in November before an injury forced Woodson out of the match-up.
Following a six-week recovery, Woodson got back to work with his strength and conditioning coach as well as on his Jiu-Jitsu skills. One 12-week camp later in St. Louis, and Woodson is ready to test his improvements against Zalal.
In fact, he predicted fans will see the best version of Sean Woodson yet.
“I’ve been making every day count. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder going into this fight coming off my first pro loss. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that you can’t fight with emotions and you can’t fight mad, necessarily, because that’s when you tend to make the most mistakes. I’m still going to be the usual calm, cool, calculated person that I am when I’m in there, but it’s going to be some calm, cool, calculated aggression this time for sure. I’ll definitely be more aggressive this fight than I had been my last few.”
Woodson’s overall physical fitness and Jiu-Jitsu will be significantly better than ever heading into his next fight, he said. He plans to have the cardio to back up an aggressive game plan against Zalal; something he felt he was missing against Erosa.
“It will be the real me out there,” Woodson said. “It won’t be a short notice, half-assed version of myself. After my pro debut, my next fight after that was eight months. Normally, I’m not a big fan of short notice fights, but when [the Erosa] fight came about, I didn’t want to pass up on this opportunity not knowing when the next one would come.”
Woodson admitted he gassed towards the end of the first round against Erosa after having taken the fight on short notice. As a result, his cardio was not at the level it usually is heading into fights.
Still, Woodson believes he took the first two rounds from Erosa.
“As crazy as it sounds, the biggest thing I learned from that fight is, I’m right where I belong,” he said. “The last fight was some craziness: three different opponent switches, the last minute, and the last guy being Julian had four times as many pro fights as me. I remember going into that fight; I was waiting to feel that experience difference. I didn’t feel it at all. I don’t think it was a skill difference in there at all. I felt like my skills were better than his.”
Woodson’s UFC win came against Kyle Bochniak in October 2019. Zalal, meanwhile, has fought blue-chip prospect Ilia Topuria and owns wins over Austin Lingo, Peter Barrett and Jordan Griffin.
The two 145’ers are set to throw down on Saturday at UFC Vegas 28. The card will air on ESPN+.
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