St. Louisan Woodley fights Saturday on UFC main event
NOV 15, 2013 4:21p ET
This is a sport, remember, that used to take great pride in claiming it had no rules. The typical UFC bout was staged to see who might last longer, a boxer or a martial arts expert. Senator John McCain even tried to ban the UFC years ago. "Human cockfighting," he called it.
But this is not the UFC that has Woodley climbing the ranks of welterweight contention. The UFC has grown into a mainstream sport, or at least a mega entertainment that can charge $54.95 for pay-per-view events such as the 20th anniversary show scheduled for Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. According to Seat Geek, floor seats for UFC 167 are selling for more than $2,000, with the average ticket on the resale market going for nearly $600. These hardly are prices you'd pay to see a barroom brawl.
"It's not just two crazy guys beating their brains out with nobody willing to step in and stop it anymore," says Woodley, a 31-year-old welterweight. "That might have been valid five years ago. Today it's a sophisticated sport. You have collegiate wrestlers, you have professional boxers, you even have guys from the NFL crossing over. It's about the top athletes, the most well-conditioned who are equally rounded in striking and grappling. That makes it more of a sport, more of a chess match, and less of a brawl."
If UFC had not changed, Woodley would not be stepping into the Octagon to take on UFC veteran Josh Koscheck in a three-round bout expected to start around 9:15 p.m. Central time.
"No way," he says. "No way. I have three sons, I have a wife. I have to be able to look in my mirror and know I'm doing something that's sophisticated enough to inspire others and for me to be proud of. I can honestly say I'm proud to be a part of mixed martial arts. I'm proud to be in the UFC at this time in this era."
The UFC appears just as glad to have Woodley, a four-year MMA pro, in its ranks. Though he became part of UFC less than a year ago and split his first two fights, he still was given a chance to fight on the main event of the biggest UFC card of the year. Woodley still has a ways to go before taking on the likes of welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre or challenger Johny Hendricks, who will meet in the main event Saturday night. But he is on the right track.
"They see me as a future star, a future champion," he says. "They're putting me against top guys because they know I can take it. I'm asking for it, too. I'm asking to be thrown to the wolves."
Woodley started his MMA career four years ago and hooked on with UFC after it bought his previous organization, Strikeforce. A two-time All-American wrestler at Missouri and a state champion at McCluer High, Woodley went into MMA when he noticed the success some former wrestlers were enjoying.
These days he spends as much time on his boxing and jiu-jitsu as he does wrestling. Steered by a team of coaches and trainers, Woodley says he typically spends four hours a day in the gym five times a week. He usually trains for his fights in Florida or out West, but he stayed home for his seven-week camp to prepare for Koscheck. It helps that he has his own gym, located on Manchester Road in Rock Hill, which he is quick to point out is not a fighting gym but a family fitness center.
Woodley says he gave his previous fighter, Jake Shields, too much credit, and he ended up losing a split decision.
"The more film I watched, the more credit I started giving him," Woodley says. "If I had fought him with my original mindset -- that is, I'm going to overwhelm him and he's going to be begging for the referee to get us out of there -- I would have fought him differently. But I'm young in this sport. I'm learning."
One thing he knows already is that his sport isn't what it once was, and that's more than OK with him.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.
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