If you’re a fan of UFC, you don’t need an introduction to the five-time welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
If you haven’t heard of him, he was brought up by a single mother in the tough city of Ferguson, Missouri, number 11 in a family of 13 kids where survival skills were paramount.
Ferguson was a “sundown town” until the 1960s, meaning African Americans were not allowed out after nightfall.
At the time, Woodley condemned the looting and rioting while also trying to explain to the rest of America that there was another side to the story of Ferguson – that it’s a good place, a smart place, a place he’s proud to be part of, with a real sense of community.
Woodley himself was a high school footballer, then a state champion wrestler. He graduated from college with a major in agricultural economics and was a two-time All-American wrestler.
Today, Woodley will step out of the UFC octagon and into a boxing ring for the latest fighting trend; taking on YouTube or TikTok personalities, in this case Jake Paul.
Meanwhile, there are those who might know nothing about the fight game but will catch Woodley in the soon-to-be released film Embattled, an insightful look at a complicated family life with mixed martial arts at its centre.
It’s the latest in a growing line of films he’s appeared in. This time around Woodley plays the role of a commentator, something he also does in real life.
“I think it’s good that people see me trying other stuff as someone that’s tied closely to mixed martial arts,” he says.
“My whole thing the entire time was to show people that you can do multiple things great.
“My sport is called mixed martial art, not mixed martial fighting, not mixed martial punch, not mixed martial just do this.”
Woodley refuses to be put in a box.
“I am an artist.”
He’s got other plans too – more work in television and more work in the community in Ferguson.
“When I was a kid I always used to watch films and was always mimicking,” he says.
“I think I’ve just always been up for a challenge, anything that’s difficult for some type of reason I veer towards it, whether it was wrestling or mixed martial arts or studying German.
Woodley laughs remembering the first time he was shown a script and asked to audition for a film.
“I read it and I was terrible, I was like, ‘Oh my god this is hard!'” he says.
“It became a challenge and a test for me … and I wanted to challenge myself.”
Growing up, Woodley had no intention of becoming a UFC fighter. In most cities of the USA, the sport was banned.
But life throws up interesting choices, some you take, others you don’t.
“My high school wrestling coach was a fighter, and I was like, ‘Man you’re crazy, I’m not doing that crap, I don’t know what’s wrong with you,'” he says.
“But it really got to the point where it got really popular, especially for the wrestlers.
“They were able to control the fight … I started as a wrestling coach, I was coaching a lot of main fighters that needed me to help them because wrestlers were beating them.
“Thiago Alves, Steve Edwards, Din Thomas … the list goes on and on of people that were hiring me to help them.
“And I said you know what, let me just give this sport a try myself. That’s how I got started.”
Like most careers, the more you know the better you get. Woodley worked on everything.
“Kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, jujitsu,” he says, but points to other aspects outside the fighting that are just as crucial.
“You’ve got a great strength and conditioning coach, you’re eating the right foods that give you energy, you’re getting the right rest, you’re taking your time and really thinking about the sport.
“You respect your opponent which means you’re studying them, watching them, seeing what they’re doing and also giving just a little bit of space for evolution – if they actually learn, and get better and change, that’s how you prevent yourself from being in these fights where people are like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t watch.’
“Sometimes, though, that’s what happens.
“Then it comes down to heart, it comes down to am I going to quit, am I going to give up? And for me, the answer is always no.”
Woodley is also father to four kids. He says they’re being raised in a different environment, but with the same values he was taught.
“I didn’t have a bad life, I just didn’t have as many options as they have as far as like my dad wasn’t as big a part in my life as I am in theirs,” he says.
“When you think about it … my mindset was different because I grew up in a different environment and I had to protect myself and I had to be tough, and I had to know my surroundings.
“There were different layers of the street that could have trapped me and sucked me in, and I’m not acting like I didn’t partake in some of them, but my kids don’t really have that option.
“They work hard, I try to instil good things into their mind so they can go further.
“I try to put them into positions that I wasn’t in, I try to give them the best resources and the best chances to be successful. But it’s the same spirit as I was raised – just being honest with them, being transparent.
“If I make mistakes or I do something and mess up we talk about it.
“We talk about why I shouldn’t have done it, and what I should have done differently, and how your choices can affect your future, so that’s kind of the way I do it.
“They may have a few more bells and whistles here and there but as far as just the spirit of being raised the right way, I feel like my upbringing kind of helped me become a parent.”
While UFC and mixed martial arts is not everyone’s sport of choice, there’s a lot to like about Woodley’s approach to his career and life beyond it.