'Universal mom' Deborah Woodley showed true grace after her son Tyron's defeat at UFC 235

·Combat columnist
Deborah Woodley (L) had some wise words for Kamaru Usman following his one-sided victory over her son at UFC 235. (Screenshot via UFC.tv)
Deborah Woodley (L) had some wise words for Kamaru Usman following his one-sided victory over her son at UFC 235. (Screenshot via UFC.tv)

Tyron Woodley conducted himself with dignity, grace and class on Saturday following his one-sided loss to Kamaru Usman in their welterweight title fight in the co-main event of UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

After speaking with his mother, Deborah, it’s easy to understand why.

On Wednesday, the UFC released a clip of Usman walking to his locker room after defeating Woodley, with the belt flung over his shoulder. He’s limping as he makes his way to the locker room.

All of a sudden, Usman hears a voice and makes a 90-degree turn to his left, where he embraces Woodley’s mother. The mother of the fallen champion throws her arms around the man who just defeated her son and pats him on the back.

Usman respectfully tells her he’s sorry. She won’t have any of that.

“It’s OK,” she said. “It’s all good, baby. It’s all good. It’s all good. It’s all good, honey. Bless your heart. It’s all good.”

Usman appears moved to tears by her kindness and puts his head on her shoulder. She continues to speak matronly to him.

“It’s your turn,” she said. “It ain’t his turn. It’s your time. Be encouraged. You hear me? And keep on working, because they’re going to come for you. And you take it to them.”

She pats him on the back and he turns away and returns to his locker room.

The clip moved a lot of people, myself included. It’s such a rare sight to see that kind of grace under difficult circumstances like that.

Deborah is 66 years old and raised Tyron on her own. They lived in Ferguson, Missouri, where there were a lot of issues nearby. She made sure her son got involved in sports as a way to keep him busy and out of trouble.

She worked multiple jobs. Her primary job was a nanny, but she also used to work as a cleaner. She’d clean office buildings at 7 p.m. after the employees left for the night, and would sometimes go to restaurants at 3 in the morning to clean them before they opened the next day.

“I had to do what I had to do,” she said.

But she always found time for her son and made sure she got him to and from whatever activities he was participating in safely and on time.

She spoke to him a lot about the dangers that surrounded him, but she knew that talking would only go so far. She had to do more than just talk.

“You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but there is so much pressure on kids and if you aren’t proactive and trying to prevent issues from coming up in the first place rather than dealing with them later, you’re not really doing your job,” she said. “Of course I worried about him and I knew I couldn’t be with him 100 percent of the time. But I made sure to be with him as much as I could and to get him to where he needed to go so he wouldn’t just kind of stumble into a problem.”

She still takes that approach and is a visible figure at her son’s fights. She has learned enough about MMA to know that something was off in Tyron’s game on Saturday.

He’s one of the best welterweights in MMA history, but he looked flat and out of it from the start on Saturday and was never in the fight. Usman won by scores of 50-44 twice and 50-45.

It has to be nerve-wracking for the family of a fighter to see that and watch their son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend getting kicked, punched and kneed. It’s even worse to watch them lose in a high-profile championship fight.

Woodley’s mother did all of that and while she admitted it was tough, she didn’t let her emotions get the best of her. She was able to accurately assess what he did incorrectly while remaining classy at all times.

“He wasn’t himself,” Deborah Woodley said of her son. “That wasn’t like him. I watched it, and I noticed he wasn’t moving side to side and he kept backing off, not throwing punches. I got a little concerned because I thought maybe he hurt his shoulder or his hand again, or something. But he was just very flat and didn’t seem to have it.”

She said she’s been encouraging to Tyron’s opponents for as long as he’s competed. She said when he was wrestling in college, where he was an All-American at Missouri, she’d cheer for wrestlers he’d have to face one day.

He would scold her for doing it, but she never stopped. A bunch of the wrestlers, she said, began to refer to her as “the universal mom.”

“That’s just me and that’s just how I am,” Deborah said. “I was always encouraging the wrestlers. A lot of them didn’t have family show up and they needed someone to be there for them and cheer and encourage them. Tyron would say, ‘Mom, you can’t be rooting on guys I might have to wrestle,’ and I’d say, ‘Why can’t I?’ That’s just me. It’s the way I am. You have to understand something when it comes to this.

“They’re not adversaries; they’re opponents. I think we’re all family and we need to support each other.”

She said she became friends with Nate Marquardt and his family after he beat her son. She consoled Darren Till after Woodley defeated him last year in a welterweight title bout.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 30:  Tyron Woodley poses for a post fight portrait with his family backstage during the UFC 201 event on July 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Tyron Woodley poses with his family during UFC 201 on July 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta,. (Getty Images)

Woodley said he saw the clip on Wednesday. He said he would have been bothered by it, but he understands her perspective. What she was doing, he said, goes well beyond sports.

He said it was hard to see his mother embrace the guy who had just taken the belt he worked so long and hard for, and say it was his turn, even though Usman has been fully respectful of him. Woodley said Usman called him Sunday morning to thank him for the opportunity. He said when he understood where his mother was coming from, he was proud of her.

“The fight is over and it’s his belt and she is showing that she understands that the fight is just sports but that the relationships go well beyond that, well beyond sports,” he said. “If I didn’t get that and didn’t understand her perspective, it would be hard. But she’s looking at it from a totally different angle, and I get that.”

Woodley no longer has the belt, and that has to be disappointing for him. He has something more important, though:

He has a mother who cares, who’s the best kind of a role model, who is wise and kind and classy.

In the end, that’s a lot more significant than any gem-studded belt could ever be.

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