Why Tyron Woodley is 'The Rock' of the UFC

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

Malki Kawa is one of the most prominent agents for MMA fighters. He also represents a few boxers and has recently begun to represent NFL players.

He’s constantly on the go, traveling to meet clients, talk to sponsors or see an event.

One of his clients is Tyron Woodley, the UFC’s welterweight champion. And when Kawa got to know Woodley well, he was shocked.

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“He’s the only guy I know whose schedule is worse than mine,” Kawa said, chuckling.

Woodley is not only one of the world’s finest fighters and a stalwart as a Fox MMA analyst, but he also acts in movies, does stunts and appears on television shows. He also has a slew of endorsements and makes personal appearances as part of those agreements.

“He’s like a smaller version of ‘The Rock,’ with everything he has going,” Kawa said, comparing Woodley to Dwayne Johnson, the former wrestler and college football star who has gone on to enormous success as an actor and producer.

Most fighters leave negotiations and contract talks to their agents and simply show up where and when they’re told.

Woodley, though, is different. The University of Missouri graduate does most of his own deals, seeking opportunities and negotiating his movie roles, sponsorship contracts and stunt duties.

Tyron Woodley fights Demian Maia on Saturday. (Getty)
Tyron Woodley fights Demian Maia on Saturday. (Getty)

Kawa handles his fight contracts and a few of his bigger endorsement deals, but it’s primarily Woodley. A fighting career is, in and of itself, a full-time job, but Woodley, who is also an outspoken civil-rights activist, rarely has down time.

“Beyond the things that Malki does, I do 100 percent of the rest of them,” said Woodley, who will defend his title Saturday on a stacked card at UFC 214 against top challenger Demian Maia at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. “I didn’t find someone that I thought was a good fit, and I’ve been shopping around, talking to agencies. Hopefully in the next few months, I’ll find the right one that fits me, but until then, I have just handled my business myself.”

He’s taking advantage of the bully pulpit that his athletic career is offering and is providing for his family in a way that should guarantee it will never have the struggles he faced as a youth growing up in Ferguson, Missouri.

He’s a fascinating and engaging man, but he almost seems to take offense to the notion it’s unusual to represent himself.

“I graduated with a business degree and it’s what I got that education to do,” he said.

He’s a man of many interests and accomplishments, and someone who can’t be easily typecast. He’s offended many in the MMA fan base by seeking to land fights that would pay him the most money rather than facing the top contender at a given time.

When he won the title by knocking out Robbie Lawler last year, he enraged many by openly campaigning for a shot against former champion Georges St-Pierre, who had retired in late 2013 and hadn’t fought since. He also called out Nick Diaz, one of the sport’s most popular fighters.

Some fans took those callouts to mean he was trying to bypass rightful contenders such as Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Maia, who had won big fights to get into title position.

He ultimately fought Thompson twice and will meet Maia on Saturday, so he’s proven he’s not avoiding anyone. But he said the fan reaction to what he was trying to do was simply based on partial information.

And, as he admitted, part of it was based on Thompson and Maia expecting him to lose fights. Woodley was famously irritated when Thompson picked Robbie Lawler to defeat him in their welterweight title fight.

“I think some of the fans don’t recognize the full deck of cards,” Woodley said. “They see interviews, they hear the sound bites, they see the headlines and they take a stance. When they actually know my logic behind it, and when they actually know all the things that are taking place and why I wanted to fight Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz and a lot of those guys, I think they can understand it. Look at the fact that none of my opponents has really given me a chance, Demian Maia included, Stephen Thompson included.

Tyron Woodley lands against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson during Woodley’s February victory. (AP)
Tyron Woodley lands against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson during Woodley’s February victory. (AP)

“All these guys were picking me to lose, so when I come out on top, and I prove everybody wrong, I don’t necessarily feel the obligation to say, ‘Oh, yes, Stephen Thompson, let’s go out there and fight with glory and honor and let’s go out and shake hands and kumbaya and put on a great show for the fans.’ No. You just said you didn’t want to fight me. You said you would rather fight Robbie and that you didn’t think I was going to win anyway. They were discrediting me, saying I was sitting around and waiting and not really being active, and they didn’t tell the true story or the whole story. So, no, given that, I don’t feel an obligation to be so nice and kind and forthcoming with that matchup.”

He’s a guy with strongly held beliefs who is willing to take an unpopular stance. He recently appeared on SiriusXM’s morning show, “Sway in the Morning,” where he rapped a song that included several chilling lines.

Woodley was born and raised in Ferguson, the center of massive protests in 2014 when a white police officer shot and killed an African-American teenager.

In his song, he rapped: “I’m from the real streets/The [expletive] real slums/Where they really grip the pistols, the real guns/They don’t tease, they squeeze.”

Later, he continued: “I’m raising black sons in white America/I know these lyrics and they’re spirited and they’re scaring ya.”

Woodley has two sons, an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old, who are privileged and don’t want for anything.

They have experienced racism at an early age, though. Woodley’s 8-year-old encountered a shocking racial incident in school. His 13-year-old has gone to wrestling events where no one would wrestle him because of the color of his skin.

Woodley, though, was proud of how they handled themselves.

“My 8-year-old, a kid in his school said, ‘I hate you,’ ” Woodley said. “My kid said, ‘What?’ And the other kid said, ‘I hate you because of your skin.’ He was smart enough to say, ‘Well, you know what? You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to be my friend. That stuff you said to me, that was hurtful. But I know who I am. I know I’m smart. I know I’m a good person. I know I’m a good athlete and if you don’t want to talk to me, you don’t have to be my friend.’

“He didn’t allow that to just torture him and torment him. As a dad, it was a proud moment that my 8-year-old was smart enough to talk like that.”

That comes from the father, who is a stickler for doing the right thing and putting full effort into whatever he does.

He has precious little free time because he’s given himself so much to do, but he understands how short athletic careers are. The future is very real to him.

He’s planning for it, though he joked that maybe he could give up one aspect of his job.

“Acting is something I’m serious about,” he said. “I’m a white-belt in this area now and I’m trying to absorb and learn and become a part of that world. But it’s what I really want to do. Maybe I won’t do as many stunts down the road as I’m doing now, because, hey, man, let’s be honest: I’d just like to fall off buildings a lot less as I get older.”

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