Tyron Woodley has just walked out of a library with his 6-year-old son, Tyron Jr. His son is 75 pounds already and bigger than most boys in his class, and he appears very athletic.
The parents of Woodley's son's classmates are amazed that he's not in athletics.
"He would rather read books and write and go to church and do things like that," Woodley said. "He loves going to the library, so we spend time together there. He's a little brick house and he's about twice the size of most of the kids in his class. People say to me all the time, 'How come this kid's not in wrestling or in football or something?' But that's not what he's about now, and so I'm going to encourage him to do what he's doing."
It's hardly a surprise that Woodley's son would be proficient in school, given that he was an Academic All-American wrestler at St. Louis' McCluer High School.
Woodley's now one of the world's most promising mixed martial artists, a 170-pound knot of muscle who is giving all the indications he's going to be a future welterweight champion.
He's also working on a graduate degree in public administration at Southern Illinois University, where he's an assistant wrestling coach, and hopes some day to run a non-profit facility to expose at-risk youths to sports and teach them life skills.
Woodley seems the prototypical All-American boy, though he nearly found himself traveling the same path as many of his high school classmates. Several are dead, having been murdered. Others are serving long sentences in jail. More are working the streets selling drugs.
Woodley grew up in one of the country's most difficult areas in St. Louis and said he was surrounded by drugs, gangs and violent crimes.
"Everyone's ghetto story is the same," Woodley said matter-of-factly.
Except in Woodley's case, it's not. He was raised by his mother in a large family with, as he puts it, extremely limited resources. He seemed to rise above the trouble around him to excel in class and in sports, though he nearly succumbed when he was 16 or 17.
He saw an acquaintance standing on a street corner selling drugs. Woodley's funds were low. His prospects for obtaining more money weren't good. Success seemed a long way off. He finally gave in and asked his friend for a job. He was shocked, though, at the response.
"He wouldn't even think about it," Woodley said. "He wouldn't even consider it and told me to get out of there and not think about it. Later, I look back on that and I think about what he did for me. It's incredible."
It was one of the few times in his life where he showed weakness. He said that when he was young and he saw all the trouble around him, he made up his mind he wasn't going to allow the lure of the streets to suck him in.
Even when he lived with a friend in a home where there were no adults, he studied hard, trained hard and avoided the streets assiduously.
"I had the same exposure to drugs and gangs and all the things that you see living in a ghetto neighborhood," Woodley said. "I say this over and over, but I believe we're all given opportunities to make a better life for ourselves; in a lot of cases, we're given multiple opportunities. I didn't want to rely on excuses and say, 'Oh, my Dad isn't around' or 'We don't have money.' I used my coaches as role models and I just was determined to find a better way, a better life."
That better life is now not far away. He improved to 4-0 with an impressive victory over Zach Light on Sept. 25, and will fight again in the Strikeforce Challenger Series in November.
Have no doubt, though, this is a guy who one day will be in the mix for the Strikeforce welterweight crown. He's training with the fabled American Top Team and shows all the signs of being its next great fighter.
He's got the wrestling base, but his striking and submissions are improving dramatically. "I'm happy with my progress and I feel like I'm getting closer to where I want to be," he said. "I know where I am and I know my potential. I'm dedicating my life to doing this. I know if I keep going and do the right things, the possibilities are endless."
Woodley is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
And with that, let's dive into the mailbag, but as I do, I want to remind you to follow me on Twitter.
NELSON'S OUT OF SHAPE
Is Roy Nelson supposed to be one of these highly trained and skilled professional mixed martial artists I keep hearing about? You know, the kind of fighter that Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White wants to represent the sport to the world? The guy is big fat slob. I mean come on. He can afford to lose at least 30lbs, probably more. Is this the best they can do? At least Kimbo Slice looks in shape. These guys have the world by the horns, an opportunity very few get, and they show up 40 pounds overweight? Give me a break.
Roy looks more like a middle-aged sports writer rather than a fighter, but his type of build is rare in MMA. Having said that, he's been able to perform to this point, despite his body. There are occasionally athletes like this in every sport. I remember Detroit Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich, who was superb despite a huge gut. There are plenty of others in all sports. Nelson doesn't have the look, but as long as he can fight, he'll get a pass on it.
WHO MADE THE MISTAKE?
I'm bothered by a sentence in your column on Brett Rogers. You wrote "Rogers is coming off a career-defining knockout of former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski on June 6 in St. Louis. Arlovski made the critical mistake of standing in front of Rogers and trading punches." The part "Arlovski made the critical mistake of standing in front of Rogers and trading punches" really gets to me. Please tell me you're not seriously saying Rogers is better then Arlovski? The guy landed a lucky punch. Arlovski is better on his feet, better on the ground and better all around. If it wasn't for the lucky punch, I'm sure Arlovski would have dominated Rogers. I feel Brett "Lucky Punch" Rogers isn't ready for Fedor or deserve a shot at him.
Even though I disagree it was a lucky punch – he said he was going to do that and he did it – think about the fight going in. If you're Arlovski, what is the only way you lose? By standing in front of Rogers and trading. In my mind, if you're going to criticize anyone in that fight, it should be Arlovski, not Rogers.
A REASON FOR KIMBO'S SUCCESS?
I'm a French fan of your boxing and MMA columns and it's a pleasure to send you my question. Do you think that a part of the success of Kimbo Slice is his name? If he uses his real name, Kevin Ferguson, do you think people would be so interested in him? "Kimbo Slice" sounds great. I'd prefer to watch a Kimbo Slice match than a Kevin Ferguson match any day.
Kimbo's popularity is hard to gauge. His name is a small part of it, but it's a combination of his look, his style, his personality and the niche where he marketed himself.
NELSON IS OUT OF HIS MIND
In talking about Kimbo Slice, Roy Nelson is quoted by Dave Meltzer as saying, "At heavyweight, he really doesn't have a chance, as we're a little more well-rounded than the 205-pounders." Dude, I think Nelson should be drug tested for saying something like that. What do you think?
I agree. I'm not sure which 205-pounders and which heavyweights Nelson has been watching, but they're not the same ones I've been seeing.
FEDOR IS NO. 1
Why is Fedor Emelianenko No. 3 on the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound list? As far as I'm concerned, he has fought and beaten better opposition by far than any of the two guys that you have above him. Anderson Silva in PRIDE couldn't do anything significant. He was submitted at least three times in PRIDE and he is supposed to be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Hmmm. Georges St. Pierre looks good, but he needs to do a lot more to come close to Fedor. Fedor is just heads and shoulders above anyone right now and until someone beats him there's no reason why he shouldn't be No. 1.
Fedor is a great fighter and I wouldn't have a problem if he were No. 1. I think the top guys, including Lyoto Machida, are very closely matched. But your dismissal of Silva and St. Pierre is way wrong. We have a poll of sharp mixed martial arts reporters and they came to this conclusion. I suspect if you asked a group of fighters, they'd be split, too.
Brett Rogers had better study Fedor. Fedor is not just another man with arms and legs. Fedor is Zeus himself in human form.
Ah, now I understand. Maybe that explains the rumor that Rogers is training with Apollo.
AOKI WOULDN'T LOSE TO UFC FIGHTERS
Shinya Aoki recently said that he would not lose to any fighter in the UFC. Also, most sites have him ranked as the No. 2 lightweight in the world. Some even rank him No. 1 above B.J. Penn. However, with all of the wrestlers with good striking in the UFC, is it realistic to think Aoki would be ranked so highly if he fought in the UFC?
Aoki, who defeated Jochim Hansen for the DREAM lightweight title on Tuesday, is a good fighter and he'd fare well in the UFC. However, I do not believe he'd dominate, nor do I believe he's as good as B.J. Penn. But he'd be one of the elite fighters in the UFC.