Woodley focuses on Kim, suppresses thoughts of Ferguson and last loss
AUG 22, 2014 1:42p ET
ST. LOUIS -- Tyron Woodley was driving the streets of Ferguson, Mo., the day after the QuikTrip had been looted and burned when he did this interview. He was supposed to be talking about his upcoming fight, but the death of Michael Brown and the events that followed made that difficult.
Understandably so. Woodley was on his home turf and clearly bothered. He grew up "within walking distance" of the QuikTrip and eventually left the area by earning a wrestling scholarship to Missouri and becoming one of the world's top UFC welterweights. Now he is offering eyewitness reports as he surveys the damage.
"It's so bad. I can't even explain to you how bad it looks," he says. "They spent so much money building this area up, making it look like the old downtown area, the cobblestone days, and they did a good job. Now they just tore that thing up. Trash is everywhere, product everywhere, glass everywhere. Why did they bust windows in people's houses? They didn't do anything.
"What does a pair of rims have to do with his death? Did the AutoZone kill him? Why are you stealing bottles of water from Walmart? I see beauty supply products in the street; how did a comb or a brush help him? ... I'm outdone, I'm really outdone."
This was Aug. 11, a day before Woodley left for China and his Aug. 23 fight against the dangerous South Korean Dong Hyun Kim. Already dragging after a late-night flight back from a promotional appearance in Las Vegas, Woodley's mind was far from the Octagon.
"I'm exhausted, I have to train today and I have to fly to Asia tomorrow," he says. "I have to leave my wife and kids thousands and thousands of miles away. That's something I'm not really cool with."
In the 11 days since, Woodley has had time to set aside, temporarily at least, his frustrations about the Ferguson events. Judging from the video of Friday's pre-fight weigh-in, where he checked in at 170 pounds, Woodley appears in top condition.
He better be on his game for this three-round bout that will be held Saturday at the Cotai Arena in Macau and be shown on UFC Fight Pass (ufc.tv) for $9.99. Considering the time difference, Woodley's fight is scheduled to go off about 9:30 a.m. Central time.
Woodley's quest to win the welterweight title already has been delayed because of his disappointing loss to Rory MacDonald two months ago. Woodley had been told the winner of that bout would be next in line for a title shot but days before the bout, the UFC announced otherwise. "I told myself I wasn't distracted, that I was focused, I was committed," Woodley says. "But to be honest, I was distracted. I was mad, I was frustrated on how political this can be at times. That was a lesson in itself."
Woodley lost a lopsided decision when he lacked his usual aggression and allowed MacDonald to control the action. "It was like a bad dream when you want to hit somebody but you swing slow," Woodley says. "You get an opportunity and you just don't take it."
The bout was his first after signing a new eight-bout contract with the UFC and Woodley, with the title in sight, might have over-prepared for the opportunity, or at least over-thought the situation.
"I was extremely prepared for everything he did," Woodley says. "The only thing that surprised was he didn't have a ton of punching power. He's not punching hard, and that surprised me."
Still, Woodley showed such little fight that UFC president Dana White minced no words ripping his performance.
"He made Woodley look like he didn't even belong in there," White told reporters after the fight. "He choked in the big fight. He needed to come out and try to rip that head off in the third round and he didn't even do that. He got beat. He got beat mentally, he got beat physically. He's got a ways to go."
Admittedly seeking redemption, Woodley jumped at this chance when Kim's first opponent backed out in June. It will be just more than two months since the loss to MacDonald, making this a semi-short-notice fight, and again Woodley will have to fight against the crowd favorite. Also, the more experienced Kim has won his past four fights, two by stunning knockouts.
But Woodley is more concerned about the real Woodley showing up than his 10th-ranked opponent's punching power. Woodley, ranked fourth, says he spent less time studying this opponent and talking up this fight than usual.
This time, he says he just wants to fight. After all the hoopla that came with his quick rise in the welterweight ranks, after feeling disrespected for being shunned of a title opportunity and, finally, after coming out flat against MacDonald, it's back to the basics.
"I'm just going to go out there and fight," Woodley says. "Sometimes you throw caution to the wind and rely on your instincts. I respect my opponent, but he's going to walk into a freight train."
Woodley can't afford to be distracted, not even by the events on his old home turf.