All Tyron Woodley should be focused on is this weekend’s UFC Fight Night bout in Macau. His heart and mind, however, are with friends and family in Ferguson, Mo.
Woodley grew up minutes from the St. Louis County city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer Aug. 9. The UFC welterweight flew to the area hours after peaceful protests had given way to vandalized businesses, smashed car windows, and dozens of arrests. Woodley’s home would blossom into the epicenter of a racial divide between residents and the people sworn to protect them.
“I think people are trying to protest peacefully now, but the looting really reflected on us in a negative way,” Woodley told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “These are local businesses, many of which are black-owned, with employees that need those jobs. People are ripping them off. How does that do anything positive?”
Woodley wasn’t there simply to make an appearance. He was there to assess the damage. To make sure his small town survived. And most importantly, to give a helping hand.
In a recent visit to East St. Louis’ Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation, Woodley gave young wrestlers words of inspiration and motivation for following their dreams.
“This is actually what I enjoy doing. People think that fighting is your life but really, talking to kids, mentoring, giving back, that’s my passion. That’s going to be my last job. And I use the positive publicity we get from mixed martial arts to inspire, to encourage, to motivate these kids,” Woodley said.
The former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler joined the UFC in 2013. He’s gone 3-2 with victories of Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, and Jay Hieron. Granted, Condit and Koscheck were in the twilight of their careers, they helped Woodley solidify his status as a top ten caliber welterweight.
Concerns rose over performances against Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. The latter an underwhelming UFC 174 performance where Woodley couldn’t mount a consistent attack in losing via unanimous decision.
As Woodley prepares for fight Dong Hyun Kim, he’s doing anything to avoid distractions. That includes avoiding updates from Ferguson. This is the fight of his life; a victory may reward him with a welterweight title shot in the near future. A loss puts him that much further.
Either way, Woodley isn’t simply fighting for himself this weekend. He’s fighting for the small Missouri town that’s in the midst of its own battle.
“I’m from the area,” Woodley said. “I’ve had to try and block it out and stay positive. At the end of the day, I can’t block it out. My whole life, I’ve spent there.”