Last month MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter Tyron Woodley successfully defended his Welterweight title in UFC 209, and hasn’t slowed down since.
From his acting career, full time training and being a father of four, to working on his next move up the UFC totem pole, Woodley, one of the top-ranking African American fighters, is running at full speed.
The Welterweight champion got his start wrestling for the University of Missouri in 2000. Getting to know many fighters already involved in MMA, he made sure to assert himself into what he refers to as “the right place at the right time.”
After winning his first three professional fights in 2009, Woodley had garnered enough attention to be offered his first deal.
Fast forward to 2017, and Woodley currently has 17 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw under his title belt, along with a number of movie roles including, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
However impressive his accomplishments in the Octagon may be, Woodley has found that his most rewarding fight is the one outside the ring. It might not receive the bold font in headlines, but Woodley has been fighting for his city, his community, and his culture for years and years.
It all started on August 9th, 2014 when the Ferguson, Missouri native found his city in the national spotlight after Michael Brown was wrongfully and fatally shot by police causing widespread protesting, and leaving a country in mourning.
Woodley, frustrated with how his town was being depicted, decided to take action, using his voice for those who needed to be heard and using his platform to help educate and empower the small town community that he calls home.
“Ferguson is a very small city,” Woodley tells us in our exclusive interview. “There are patches in every city where you can find a lot of crime and violence, but it’s crazy [to me] that something would happen at that apartment [in particular]. I live within walking distance of where Canfield apartments is, so it’s really close to me.”
One of the first steps Woodley took in his new found role as an activist, was reaching out to Ferguson’s youth. From high schools to middle schools, Woodley spoke to over 40 different groups of students in the community.
“You have to talk to the kids, give them hope, inspire them, teach them a different way; a positive avenue,” Tyron says. “That’s where I think I can make an impact. Grab the graduating high schoolers to try and change their mindset because they are going to be the next ones up to lead our country.”
Since 2014 Woodley has continued to be vocal on the topics of police brutality and racial discrimination, continuing outside of Ferguson to his second home, the UFC.
Tyro says, “I’m just pointing out specific things that are happening in our sport, and just in any sport in general. These are things that are not always blatant sometimes, rather they are indirect.” He continues, “Sometimes when you say things like a fighter is athletic, it can sound like you are taking away the fact that he’s a hard worker, or that he has a great work ethic or a great skill set. it’s like an indirect or subliminal stab that I’m speaking on. People don’t even realize they are doing it and at the end of the day as a hard working, skilled, dedicated athlete I take offense to it.”
As one of the top-ranking fighters in the UFC, Woodley is well respected, however, sports analysts seem to hint that the fighter’s future growth hinges on his ability to become more of an entertainer rather than athlete or activist.
The reference is made to the fast rise of fellow MMA fighter Conner McGregor, who is known for his glorified trash talking which admittedly is entertaining. That said, how come something as important as activism is not as engaging or encouraged? Shouldn’t having the bravery to stand for something be a trait which garners far more support?
Perhaps this also raises the much larger question that could be asked in the realms of not only sports but also journalism and music: does the ability to be entertained, supersede actual talent and ethics?
Regardless of what that answer might be or it’s effect on his MMA career, Woodley continues on fighting for the values he believes in and for the people in his community.
“I remember watching Muhammed Ali and at that time [when he refused army induction] he was standing on stage nobody loved Muhammed Ali. They hated him at that moment, but he did it because it was right. He gave up four years of competition during his prime and I’m pretty sure he lost money on the fights from sponsors and endorsements. But he made such a huge impact outside of the ring that he is someone we will always talk about, and my goal is not to be always spoken of, but if I have the opportunity to use mixed martial arts as a platform, I will.”
– Kelly Hite