The Maneater

UFC Welterweight Champ Tyron Woodley makes his family, alma mater proud

Woodley was a two-time All-American wrestler at Mizzou from 2001-05.

Courtesy of UFC

Tyron Woodley is a busy man. He runs his own gym in St. Louis. He is training to defend his UFC welterweight title and is set to fight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in New York on Nov. 12 as part of the UFC 205 card.

Woodley’s first priority, however, is his family.

“Family is everything to me,” Woodley said. “It’s my reason. That’s my why. Not only just figuratively, but actually literally [because] I got four kids, a wife, a house [and] a gym. I need to go out there and put my family and myself in a situation to where I can have some financial success.”

Woodley has another family he prioritizes in his hectic lifestyle: the University of Missouri. Woodley wrestled for Mizzou from 2001-05. He was a two-time All-American and helped to build a program that was once the “floormat” of a highly competitive Big 12 Conference into a national powerhouse. He still keeps up with the wrestling team and follows individual wrestlers closely.

Woodley said he has many fond memories of his time at Missouri, and most of them involve his teammates on the wrestling team.

“We had a very strong bond,” he said. “The relationships and the bonds that I built [at Missouri] gave me some of my best friends that I still have today. We built a program that had no tradition as far as competing at a high level and really changed that, and it’s just been a whirlwind ever since.”

Woodley said his time at Missouri taught him the importance of hard work. Like other student-athletes, he had to balance his athletic commitments with maintaining a higher GPA than the average student to stay eligible, requiring him to make sacrifices in his social life for the betterment of his grades and his team.

Still, he said he wouldn’t have had his college experience any other way.

“That mindset and work ethic that it took to get that program [and myself] to that level is the same mindset that I’ve taken for mixed martial arts and for life,” he said.

Woodley has kept up with more than just the wrestling team since he graduated. He followed the protests of Concerned Student 1950 last year “very closely” and indicated there are still some discrepancies between privileges afforded to white students and students of color on campus.

“You can go on the campus right now and see some of these fraternities with ungodly multi-million dollar houses, and I think there’s zero such African-American fraternity or sorority houses,” he said.

Woodley said he did not experience many overt instances of racism or discrimination when he was a student at Missouri, but he accredits this to not being on campus as often as regular students due to his athletic commitments.

“The things that I don’t know about and never experienced, I try not to speak on those because I also have to try and be an advocate for those who have had those experiences,” he said. “They shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about them, but people who have not experienced certain racism and treatment shouldn’t say [they have].”

Woodley said he has been proud of his alma mater’s response to last year’s protests because, unlike some “other institutions in the United States,” Missouri did not deny the protests ever happened and has taken tangible steps to make its campus more inclusive to all people.

He also said the student protesters created the standard for how to protest peacefully on a college campus that has been used by other schools across the country.

“I think the University of Missouri really set the bar,” he said. “[The student protesters] really got support, a process and a plan from the university, and I think there’s something to be said about that strategy in that situation.”

Since Woodley’s time at Mizzou, the school left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. However, no other SEC schools have Division I wrestling teams, so the wrestling team now competes in the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Mizzou has won the conference every year since becoming a member in 2013.

Despite the move in conference, Woodley said he will never lose the feeling of jubilance he experienced when he won the first individual Big 12 Championship in school history in 2003 and when the team won the Big 12 Conference Championship for the first time in 2012.

“It meant a lot to me because I was able to go out there and represent the school with pride,” he said. “It became one of the first bars that was set [for our program].”

Woodley said he would advise students at Missouri to take advantage of the time they have in school and not let their emotions or other people get the best of them.

“College is probably going to be the best time of your life,” he said. “Don’t let someone make you have a bad time. Anger is an emotion. You have to allow someone to make you mad and you have to allow it to affect you. It’s up to you to allow that not to happen.”

Before he leaves for New York to defend his title, Woodley had an event on Nov. 5 at Ballpark Village in St. Louis to celebrate the welterweight title championship he won July 31 and give him some “positive vibes” as he heads off for his UFC fight Nov. 12.

Woodley is a busy man. But as he continues his UFC career, he has only one goal in mind.

“I want to make my family and the University of Missouri proud,” he said.

Edited by Peter Baugh |

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