Wellness Revolutionaries | A Spiritual Fight with Tyron Woodley
In this episode of Wellness Revolutionaries, Blake interviews reigning UFC Welterweight Champion, Tyron Woodley. “The Chosen One” recounts his tumultuous journey from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the UFC Octagon, discussing faith, family, and the “light-switch” moments in between.
- Introduction [00:59]
- Interview with Tyron Woodley [05:08]
- How a career and a business intersect [07:44]
- The Spiritual Dimension [30:17]
- The impact of fighting [37:00]
- A Wellness Revolutionary [43:16]
- Closing Remarks [46:03]
- Credits [47:40]
(Blake) [00:00:03] The revolutionary I talked to today grew up surrounded by negative voices. But it was a voice from within that eventually spoke to him the loudest.
(Tyron) [00:00:11] I stopped and I was looking around like he's going to jail. He's probably gonna get shot. He's selling drugs. And I said, "I don't want to be here no more, I don't want to be in this environment no more." I was having this talk with myself and I was like, "How the hell am I going to get out of here?"
[00:00:25] Hm. Okay. What can I control? My academics I can control. Maybe I can get a scholarship in sports. So I said, "If I do these two things then I can get out of this neighborhood." So then sports had more of a purpose for me.
(Blake) [00:00:59] Welcome to Wellness Revolutionaries, the podcast that shines a light on the leaders of the Wellness Revolution. I am talking about the inspiring women and inspiring men focused on building a culture of wellness in America. I'm Blake Beltram, MINDBODY Co-founder and Evangelist, and your host, tour guide, and companion on this journey toward a healthier, happier us.
[00:01:23] At first blush, today's guest may seem a little unusual for this podcast. Tyron Woodley is the reigning UFC welterweight champion. UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship, is mixed martial arts cage fighting essentially and Tyron is also now a sports analyst, an actor, a rapper, a fitness business owner, and a husband and a father. When we think of Wellness Revolutionaries, we don't necessarily think of people whose primary career is biting other people in an octagon-shaped cage. But there is a lot more to Tyron Woodley than you initially might think.
This is a guy whose first fight was essentially getting out of the circumstances and the neighborhood he was born into which was in Ferguson, Missouri. You might remember Ferguson made national news in 2014 when Michael Brown, a young black man was shot and killed by a white police officer. And that incident sparked protests and violent clashes between protesters and the police until, ultimately, the Missouri National Guard had to be called in to keep the peace. Tyron relates to that tension and clash in his hometown and he talked to me about what it was like growing up there and how much determination it took to walk down a different path.
And it's funny because I actually related to Tyron quite a bit. We grew up in very different neighborhoods. I won't pretend I had things as hard as he did. I didn't. But we do have some similar traits. Our birthdays are six days apart. Different years. And in a lot of ways, I found a real kindred spirit in Tyron. And there was a time when I was about 15 and I was starting down a pretty bad road. It had to do with drugs and a couple of minor incidents that involved the police and, like him, I also remember a moment when I thought, I'm not on a good path here and if I don't make some changes I could end up in a bad place. And I always felt guided somehow, watched over, you could say, by unseen hands and this was one of the things that I really related to most with Tyron. He didn't have a lot of positive influences or role models around him but he responded to a higher calling, an inner voice, that still small voice you might say.
His UFC nickname is "The Chosen One" and there's actually a heartfelt reason behind that and in getting to know him a little bit, I see a man who took the best path he could, a path he felt called to follow literally, to lift himself up and a man who uses and will continue to use his influence to be a role model for young people who, like him, may not have a lot of people to look up to in their community.
[00:04:05] Think about this: As the UFC welterweight champion, and now making a name for himself as an actor and a rapper, Tyron is an influencer to a young audience that isn't always easy to influence. And underneath the cage fighter persona, he actually believes in and spreads a positive, inspiring message. And he has a long reach. This is a guy with over a million followers on Instagram. So when we talk about a Wellness Revolution and the need to stoke a culture of wellness in America, like the octagon in the MMA itself, that's multi-dimensional and it needs to cut across class lines and socioeconomic lines. Well this is a guy who's clearly a leader in this revolution. So here he is at 5 foot 9 weighing in at 170 pounds: Tyron Woodley.
(Blake) [00:05:08] Thank you so much for taking the time to come out, Tyron. It's so nice to have you here and I know you've got a busy schedule so I love that you're taking out a little bit of time to chat with us.
(Tyron) [00:05:17] Gotta spend time with family.
(Blake) [00:05:17] That's how I feel when somebody was asking me...we're rolling by the way, Amanda. That's Amanda our Vice President of Brand saying she's going to cry again in the background. So that's actually a perfect segue. Thank you, Amanda.
[00:05:31] The context is that we're at MINDBODY Bold in San Diego. This is the fifth annual MINDBODY BOLD Conference and today was an especially special day for us because we had the former First Lady Michelle Obama here...
(Tyron) [00:05:43] Man.
(Blake) [00:05:44] For a keynote conversation. What did you think about that?
(Tyron) [00:05:47] You know, number one, the introduction she had was amazing. The reception from everybody, 2,000 people clapping and cheering, it shows you what type of impact she's had. And your daughter, when she got up there and read it was amazing as well. She was just well-spoken and really relaxed, didn't care that it was 2,000+ people in the audience so that was kind of cool to watch as well.
(Blake) [00:06:05] Are you talking about Michelle Obama or my daughter?
(Tyron) [00:06:07] I'm talking about your daughter because that's kind of a gutsy thing to do. But Michelle was very down to earth, very likable. She kept referring everything back to family, which was awesome to me. She told her story and her experiences in the White House through the lens of her kids. And it always came back to family. And I think that's the thing that, you know, you think about family, spirituality is really the backbone of what keeps you glued together with love. And everybody came out crying and overwhelmed with joy when they got the opportunity to meet her and take a picture with her.
(Blake) [00:06:36] The energy in that room, the positive energy of the 2,000 people in that room was just electric. I liked what you said about taking time for family, referring to us and that's how I feel about being at these events. Someone asked me what it was like to go around and have all these interactions and I said, "It's like a family reunion and there's family that I've met and some family that I haven't met, but there's a palpable energy." And by the way, I guess I should explain that the 2,000 people here are boutique wellness business owners. These are people that own fitness studios, Pilates studios, yoga studios, CrossFit studios, salons, spas, gyms, and you're a MINDBODY customer.
(Tyron) [00:07:12] Yeah.
(Blake) [00:07:12] Tell us a little bit about your business.
(Tyron) [00:07:14] I'm one of those 2,000 people that decided to start a small business and become an entrepreneur. It is a risk, it is scary when you first start but the cool and unique story about me is that I signed up for MINDBODY membership software a few years before I even opened my business. I wanted to learn how to use it and I was competing and fighting and I hadn't found a location yet. I didn't have the funds for my gym yet, didn't have the business partner yet. So I was just a hopeful entrepreneur with a great idea of what I wanted to do but not really the means yet, not really the facility yet.
[00:07:44] You opened your gym in 2011. So tell us about your career and tell us about the gym, how those intersect. Which came first?
[00:07:52] My amateur career started before the gym. I was a coach at University of Missouri and also Southern Illinois University and I was a coach and I was trying this mixed martial arts thing, I didn't know if I want to do it or not I was just kinda training guys, I was being paid to be a wrestling coach for other pro fighters, but as an amateur, I just kind of want to see if I wanted to do it. I didn't know. And I started fighting professionally and as I was fighting professionally, I started building a lot of connections through martial arts, a lot of equipment sponsorships, you d a lot of things that you know, hey man maybe I should open my own gym. I was managing the gym, I put all this time and effort, I knew how to run it. So I wanted to open up a gym. And everybody told me, this is a terrible idea. Don't do it. No World Champion has a gym. Does George St. Pierre have a gym? They started rattling off all these guys as I heard them I heard a lot of limitations. I heard a box they were trying to put me in and I've always been the opposite of that. You tell me I can't do something. I'm going to show you I can do it.
(Blake) [00:08:44] I was going to ask you, was it actually motivating to you that you couldn't do it?
(Tyron) [00:08:48] It was motivating and I said, "You know, I'm doing it." And I went after it. I took my coach at the time to go look at buildings. We didn't have two nickels to rub together. Guys would go, "So, when are you guys looking to move in?" He was embarrassed so he was like, "Oh, you know, he's just know some aspiring entrepreneur." So he didn't really believe in it. At that point in time, I knew he couldn't be involved with it. S o I looked at all these buildings and I was living on my mom's couch in a kitchen, full-time worker. Twenty five thousand dollars in credit card debt, broke as a joke, but I had a vision, I felt very strongly God showed it to me clearly, and he just told me to go look. So I started training all these people in martial arts and my business partner now, Tim Sansone, I met him randomly at my gym.
[00:09:30] I was lifting weights at, the guy was sponsoring me, was letting me train there, wasn't charging me. And he had a shirt on and on the shirt it says "Sansone Group."
[00:09:39] And I was like, "I just went to go look at a building that says Sansone Group." He said, "That's my company." One of the largest commercial real estate people in the country. And I said, "Aw, that's crazy I just left from earlier there and I was looking at this location. It was a former Blockbuster." And he's like, "Aw, did they call you back yet?" I said, "No." He said, "I'm pretty sure they'll get around to it." So instantly I knew he was going pick up a phone and say, "Hey, call this kid back." So, he started asking me questions--and this is all locker room talk.
(Blake) [00:09:59] How old are you at the time?
(Tyron) [00:10:00] This was 2008. I was 26.
(Blake) [00:10:03] So you're 26. You're sleeping on your mom's couch, you're twenty five thousand dollars in debt. You're pursuing a career in mixed martial arts and you're trying to open up a business that's strictly an MMA...
(Tyron) [00:10:12] It made no sense at the time. When I was pursuing this career…
(Blake) [00:10:15] Wait a minute. It didn't make any sense at the time and yet you were putting everything you had into it.
(Tyron) [00:10:20] Well logically it didn't make a lot of sense because 2008 gas prices jumped and spiked. So, at that time, I was commuting 40 minutes to work at SIU which is Illinois from Missouri, forty minutes to my son's daycare. Then, I had to go from daycare to St. Charles which was another 25 minutes. I had these commutes and the gas prices alone, I told my coach, "I can't do it anymore." I say, "I can't afford to practice." He said, "Go to graduate school, take out a loan." I went to graduate school and took out a loan to fuel my MMA career. So spiritually, it made a lot of sense because God showed me very clearly what it was going to end up being.
(Blake) [00:10:54] I'm really curious to know more about that because I've had similar experiences. You know I've often said that the reason I opened the book and started making software which led to the creation of MINDBODY was because I felt a calling to it. So I know what it feels like to feel that calling toward something. How do you tune into that message and how do you know it's the real deal?
(Tyron) [00:11:12] It's crazy because I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember, I was in my mom's kitchen. She had a townhome, a two bedroom townhome, and I slept on the couch that was in a kitchen which is so odd.
[00:11:22] I remember having a dream. It showed me the end result. It showed me being a champion, showed me having a great gym, showed me everything that I'm experiencing now. It showed me that ten years ago but it didn't show me how to get there. It showed me I would be there but as I saw it it was really like a haze. The steps to get there never was shown, just the end product.
(Blake) [00:11:40] I'm familiar with those types of dreams and that just sent a chill down my spine hearing you talk about that.
(Tyron) [00:11:45] Then it showed me the first step and the first step was a T-shirt. I had a fight and the T-shirt was "The Road to Victory Starts Now and The Journey Never Ends", that was a T-shirt I wrote. So I made hundreds of these T-shirts and this guy was like, "Okay, well when you fight, I'll do this sponsorship. You can sell the shirts there and then you can give me some of the proceeds." They cancelled the fight. I got hung with hundreds of T-shirts. And I was already broke as a joke. So I went old school. I don't know if you familiar with Master P but he sold CDs out of his car before he sold Empire. So I was selling T-shirts for a fight that never was going to happen out of my trunk -- barbershops, everywhere-- I was just selling these T-shirts to try to pay this guy off. So the shirt, started with A, which is Alpha and the end was Omega. That God was the beginning and the end and at the beginning of this career are you going to need Him. The journey, at the end of it, you're going to need Him. And then he gave me the thought of a nonprofit that I'm going to start, I haven't started the nonprofit yet. The nonprofit was Endless Journey Academy and the whole thing was "a road to victory starts now and the journey never ends." You're chasing this impossible perfection that you'll never achieve.
Whether it's as a husband, whether it's as a father, a martial artist, everything that you put your hands on and I think that's why people get so mind boggled that I can do music, I can do endless work, I can do a gym. Everything I put my hands on I say, "work as you work unto the Lord" and anything I do I never want to be the weakest link and I always want to do my best. So I had that mindset a long time ago. So as my journey went through I didn't see the end goal last, I saw it first, and I saw a T-shirt. Then, in between, I had to have faith to get to the next point, and every time it wasn't clear. You know, I would try to explain faith to someone.
[00:13:24] Faith is a tinted window, 0% light, you can't see the other side of it. You have to trust that on the other side of that window is what God promised you. And if you can trust that, when you open it, he's not going to tell you lies, it's going to be there. When you looking through this window, right now, that's clear, If I show you riches, glory, fame, security, happiness, love, it's going to be no faith needed for you to continue because you already visually see what's on the other side of this glass. Faith is the tinted window. And I said sometimes faith can be confused with what we want. Sometimes there's things that I've wanted, I went out and pursued those things and God will let you do it and you fall on your face.
(Blake) [00:14:01] Doesn't work out too well, does it?
(Tyron) [00:14:04] And sometimes we misinterpret what the word failure means. Failure means your attempt did not work. It doesn't mean you're a failure and stop.
(Blake) [00:14:13] Right.
(Tyron) [00:14:13] If you haven't failed in business, you haven't succeeded in business.
(Blake) [00:14:16] No, failure's an integral part of success.
(Tyron) [00:14:18] My first gym, I was spending fifteen thousand dollars a month in rent.
(Blake) [00:14:22] That's a big nut.
(Tyron) [00:14:23] I spent ten thousand dollars in the grand opening. I didn't know any better. The next day after the grand opening is what, we're open now. I sat outside of my gym with a table and a poster and I sat there and I looked at this empty gym, no members. And I fought my entire Strikeforce career, every dime I made fighting went into my gym, every dime. And one time I was at fifty thousand dollars in debt and I had to borrow money from the guy that owns American Top Team. He said, "Tyron, I could just give you this money but you need to learn a business lesson. So that's why you have to pay me back." So downsized het gym, restructured marketing, really found out what our niche was and what we did well. And when I wrote that check to him it was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt like, you know what, I didn't let him down. I did what I needed to do. I continue to fight even though everybody told me I would never be a world champion, became a world champion, became an actor, became a recording artist as of recently, I guess you can call me a comedian. I did stand up comedy.
(Blake) [00:15:20] Is that right? You did stand up?
(Tyron) [00:15:21] I did stand up comedy and I was right before Marlon Wayans. And, you know, Marlon's like, "Man, I don't know what your goals are but you got a future in this.
(Blake) [00:15:29] No kidding.
(Tyron) [00:15:29] Yeah.
(Blake) [00:15:29] I was going to pursue stand up at one point. I've done stand up a couple of times.
(Tyron) [00:15:32] I saw that with your presence on stage today. I'm like, he has energy, he has charisma, but he has real stories and real things that grab your heart and, you know, make people want to listen.
Like I was listening to you and your ex-wife and just that co-parenting or that, you know, just friendship or just love afterwards it's crazy because I'm going through a situation now like you know I envy that because that's what I want. I want my kids to see that, I want them to see two parents that love them, but it's just crazy just to hear family and you know it makes me want to go back home, make sure we're eating dinner together. You know talking about God together. We forget about that stuff.
(Blake) [00:16:07] We do. I mean I feel like that's where these battles of the culture that we live in are really lost and won. They're in these little micro battles, the little choices of whether we're going to open our heart or keep it closed. And when they hit us man is it tough, you know, when we've got something with an ex-wife or something where we really want to keep our heart closed. But that's where we're challenged and have an opportunity to open our heart up and just let more love in. Those are the moments where I feel like we really shift ourselves as individuals and we collectively have an opportunity to shift the culture.
[00:16:37] So we have all of these things in common. Also, by the way, I would say we share some sort of faith. I don't know about the specifics but it doesn't even matter the specifics to me because my experience has been very much the same as yours. I've had things shown to me. And then the way I've said it is usually I'm shown one stone at a time. I don't know how I'm getting all the way across the river but only one stone is revealed at a time and all I know to do is to jump to that next stone and then the next one will be revealed and the next one that's kind of my version of your tinted window. [00:17:03][26.5]
[00:17:04] So, physically, what I'm wondering is, you know, outside the ring if we were to take away the rules and the referees and all of that stuff, do you think you could kick my ass?
(Tyron) [00:17:13] No, I wouldn't. You know the thing about it is there's a lot of people that know me now and they know the Tyron that God changed me into. The Tyron that once was was one that was in the street, was a gang banger, grew up in Ferguson. The street with the riots, that was my street; I lived on that street. So my environment I participated in, you know, some of the negativity that comes with living in an environment. So I've probably had 40 or 50 fights outside of the cage. Just fighting because I got a family of 13 that we lived in the same house, fighting because, you know, gang fighting because of my friends got into a fight. And me and my friends used to fist fight each other for fun.
(Blake) [00:17:48] No kidding.
(Tyron) [00:17:49] Punching in the face like straight fighting and they'll be friends and go play afterwards. It was just desensitized to what the thought of fighting was. And I think, some of that has progressed into a lot of the gun violence you see. Guys don't settle things with a fist fight anymore. So...
(Blake) [00:18:03] You're such an anomaly to me. You're fascinating to me because you're such a study in opposites. Here's a guy who I hear talking about faith and family and I've heard you get up and talk about community and love. You moved me to tears hearing you speak at our BOLD conference a few years ago and I was shocked because I didn't know you or know anything about you. And I thought here's a guy who makes a living trying to beat another man half to death and he's getting up there talking about love and faith and family. I find that so fascinating and I want to know a little bit more. And, by the way, you just sound like a one in a billion person to go from that kind of a background and that kind of negativity and somehow make this flip. I'm curious to know, where did that come from? Are there angels that watch over you? What is it that's special about you, that slipped you from that environment and those negative experiences to being a guy who talks about love and family and community and all of the things that you stand for.
(Tyron) [00:18:58] You know when I think about it, I'm really blessed because I just I had a light switch moment. And I talk to kids because I really didn't have a role model. The guys that I looked up to were the guys that were big drug dealers. They had the most money, had all the girls, they had all the nice shoes, and all the nice cars. Those are the guys I see. You know my first two years in high school, I didn't even live with my parents. My mom and my dad divorced when I turned 10. They actually separated on my tenth birthday, I remember that part. I remember walking to my aunt's house like two or three miles, no shoes on, walk into her house because that was it, they were splitting up on my birthday.
(Blake) [00:19:30] On your tenth birthday?
(Tyron) [00:19:32] On my tenth birthday, yeah, I remember that. Yeah, that happened. So...
(Blake) [00:19:36] That had to be brutal.
(Tyron) [00:19:39] But it didn't traumatize me.
(Blake) [00:19:39] It didn't?
(Tyron) [00:19:39] And that's why I'm different. Because my dad lived five minutes from me and I would see him drive past and I would see him go to the grocery store and I would see him physically. And to me he was just like a normal person you see. I'd say, "Hey, how you doin?" and I would just go about my business. It never bothered me.
(Blake) [00:19:53] But that had to have some impact, to have a 10 year old boy with his dad being just like any other...
(Tyron) [00:19:58] It had an impact on me because it made me want to do the opposite of everything. It made me want to be a super dad or made me want to be overly involved in my kid's life and sometimes I do the most because of it. Like my son will have a football game and I'll fly in from California or some crazy place, hop off the plane, go to the game and I'll hop back on the plane and go right back out to California. I've done that a lot of times. And I just want my kids to know whether it's a text message, a FaceTime, a call, me coming to see them, I've never been absent. No matter how many days I'm gone, I'm always present. We always jump right back into gear.
(Blake) [00:20:32] But kids are resilient, aren't they? Michelle Obama talked about that. I think in some ways we worry too much about overprotecting our kids.
(Tyron) [00:20:40] You know, as a parent, we overly criticize ourselves. I feel bad because, you know, I might take a movie or TV show, I've been gone for this time, and my kids are like, "How long are you going to fight? When are you going to retire?" And I'm like, "God hasn't told me to retire yet". But now my kids want me to spend more time but I haven't finished the legacy that he set out.
(Blake) [00:20:57] I was glad that she told us to be easy on ourselves. I've been hard on myself as a parent recently because I've been going through a tough time. I Wasn't there really as a father and now my daughter is about to turn 13. So not only am I hard on myself, she's hard on me. I now get the laundry list of everything that I've done badly and how I haven't been there for her but I believe in time release parenting. You know, that they don't necessarily recognize it now but when they get older, and they have more context, they'll recognize, and what they'll remember is that we really cared and we were there for them when they really needed us.
[00:21:27] Let's go back to that light switch moment. This is so fascinating to me that here's a guy who's a gang banger who's getting in fist fights for fun, who's looking up to drug dealers as role models.
(Tyron) [00:21:37] I had a reputation.
(Blake) [00:21:37] You had a reputation.
(Tyron) [00:21:37] I had a reputation.
(Blake) [00:21:38] ...as the most bad-ass guy on...
(Tyron) [00:21:40] I mean it was just known that I would fight. No matter how big you are. I don't care what you do. I'm not going to back down. I'm going to fight you.
(Blake) [00:21:46] I was joking about kicking my ass earlier.
(Tyron) [00:21:47] I wouldn't because I don't even like... People hate when I say this in MMA because they want us to say we tell our fighters, I don't even like fighting. I've done it so much.
(Blake) [00:21:57] Wait a minute.
(Tyron) [00:21:57] I like competing. I like winning.
[00:21:59] Wait a second, Tyron. This makes absolutely no sense to me. How does a guy who's a champion of your caliber, who grew up fighting, not even like? You've got to, you've got to explain this to me and you've got to explain to me how God comes into this?
(Tyron) [00:22:14] We'll I'll go to the light switch first. I haven't told you about that and then I'll explain it to you. The light switch moment happened to me. We used to play this football game and you throw the ball in the air, if you catch a ball everybody tries to hit you. We used to call it Killerman. But I just remember that I was always small. And if you grab that ball off the ground you knew what the consequence was and you were kind of giving some credit in the neighborhood if you grab the ball and you want to challenge 15 people to try to knock your head off. You know, high schoolers, middle schoolers, and I just remember, I'm like I want to grab the ball so they threw it up in the air there and people be moving away from the ball or somebody try to grab it real quick and run. And I just remember, the ball hit and I just grabbed it and I'm like, I don't care. Ain't nobody taking me down.
[00:22:55] So I got hit. I remember this high school guy hit me and this big shiner on my eye. I didn't want to go down. I stayed up as long as I can. Then after that they just gave me the respect. I earned my stripes and like you know give 'em respect and I stopped. And the game was over and I was like I was looking around like, he's going to jail. He's probably going to get shot. He's selling drugs. And I started looking around and I said I don't want to be here no more. I don't want to be in this environment no more. So then I stopped and I was like how the hell am I going to get out of here? I was having this talk with myself. I was like because emotionally I've been thinking about. But I was like, I just evaluated. I'm like he's going to go to jail. He's probably going to get shot and killed. He's selling drugs. Look at this environment. Look at this neighborhood. I can't go nowhere. How do I get out of here? So I think it was obvious that we had 13 people in a house and I couldn't afford to go to college on my mom or dad's salary.
[00:23:47] Okay, what can I control? My academics I can control. Maybe I can get a scholarship in sports. So I say if I do these things then I can get out of this neighborhood. I can buy my mom a house. I ran inside and said, "Mom, I'm going will make it to the NFL and I'm gonna buy you a house." And that was my game plan. I was going to go as hard as I could I was going to make it the NFL. I was going to buy my mom a house.
[00:24:07] So then sports had a little bit more of a purpose for me and I played football my whole life, wrestled, still a class clown, still acting up, still gang banging and I got suspended every week.
[00:24:21] One day, two day, three day ISS, five days, I got 10 day suspension three times. Every time they suspend you for ten days, they recommend you go have a hearing with the superintendent and they request for you to get 90 day suspension which is all semester
[00:24:35] That third time I got it, I got into a fight. Some girl and this whole crew and all these gang bangers they issue hit my mom. So where I'm from, you hit my mom, we fighting. So we get into this crazy fight. get suspended for ten days.
(Blake) [00:24:50] How bad were those fights? You know we had fist fights at my school. And you get a bloody nose or a black eye.
(Tyron) [00:24:56] In the 90s, the goal of a fight was to get you on the ground to stomp you. You don't ever want to hit the ground so if you in the fight, no cause do you want to hit the ground. You know guys that, you know, gang affiliated would jump off of things and jump onto somebody's head. So I don't care how big you are, you won't get me to the ground.
[00:25:10] So some of the fights were bad, some of them were not bad. So my light switch moment hit when I got that 90 day suspension. I was a star football player, I was a wrestler. They suspended me. I missed the first day of school. Imagine high school, ninth grade, first day of school. New sneakers, fresh outfit, the girls from all these different middle schools. You're in high school now. I missed all that.
(Blake) [00:25:31] So you probably could have gone into professional sports. You could have been a professional football player and bought your mom a house.
(Tyron) [00:25:36] For sure. For sure. For sure.
[00:25:37] I was a football player that my coach, he had a lot of interest in these two guys and he really wanted to get them a college. So he put a lot of energy towards the recruiting process for those guys. But academically, once I got suspended for those 90 days it's been 90 days in a student support center. It was jail. So that's why I had to go for three months, the first semester of high school. Because the football team wanted me to play, they allowed me to commute. They picked me up and bring me to practice to play football.
(Blake) [00:26:06] So you were able to still play on the football team?
(Tyron) [00:26:08] Football only.
(Blake) [00:26:09] That's it.
(Tyron) [00:26:10] I started wrestling.
(Blake) [00:26:11] You're sort of in solitary confinement as a student almost.
(Tyron) [00:26:14] But they used me because of my skills in football. So I tried to wrestle. You know I was also good at wrestling. And then the lady said, "Well you can't wrestle because you're an academic support center." I said, "Well I just did an entire football season for you guys and I was in the same place." It's like, "Well, we changed our mind." So the thing that I wanted to do, they wouldn't allow me to do so I missed the whole season.
So when I got back to the school, they tried to put me on a team for kids that had behavior problems. My mom was like, "No the hell you ain't putting my son on no team for no behavior problems, learning disabilities, whatever." So the school thought they were being funny so they put me on the team for the gifted. So intellectually, brilliant, smart, these are the smartest kids. They thought I would fail. They also told me I had to join ROTC for discipline so I had to be in ROTC. So I excelled tremendously in academics. You know I think I had the lowest GPA it was 3.8 GPA.
(Blake) [00:27:05] No kidding. They wanted to put you...
(Tyron) [00:27:07] They thought they were setting me up.
(Blake) [00:27:07] ...with learning disabilities and just to mess with you and maybe your mom.
(Tyron) [00:27:10] They thought I was going to fail.
(Blake) [00:27:11] They didn't like...
(Tyron) [00:27:13] They wanted to show her.
(Blake) [00:27:13] They wanted to show her so they put you with all the smart kids you kept pace with all that.
(Tyron) [00:27:18] Yeah.
(Blake) [00:27:18] That's phenomenal. Did you know you were smart and when did you know you were smart?
(Tyron) [00:27:22] I knew I was smart because I was always good at math and science which takes a lot of analyzing. My whole life I've only had one or two Bs in math in my whole life. Like through college, any type of advanced math you can think of, honors math. I just always had something about numbers. That's what makes me such a good businessman, when it comes down to fighting contracts, stuff like that, I know the market, I know the numbers, I know the sponsorships. I know what people work. And science was the same way. In middle school, when I wanted to be the class clown, I would fail classes on purpose. I didn't want my friends to know I was smart, you know, have that burden. But the light switch went off when I...
(Blake) [00:27:57] You got suspended for 90 days.
(Tyron) [00:27:59] I got suspended for 90 days. I was like, I can't do this anymore so I made the choice. Never got written up. Never had a referral. Never had any disciplinary action taken, not one. I graduated school of honors. I was one of the few athletes that can do what they needed to do academically and athletically. I won state title, went undefeated, broke the record for the most wins in the history of the state at that time and The ROTC program they put me in, for discipline, I became one of the top cadets. I went out to Fort Leonard Wood and I shattered every packhorse record they have my had a record now. But I went out there and I annihilated their records. And I just remember everybody who's ever tried to hold me back and tell me what I couldn't do, I've showed them different.
Now the counselor, the guidance counselor, an African-American young lady. I was asking for, cause you get a waiver when, you know, you certain income you get a waiver for the application fee. So I asked her for a waiver, so I can do an application to University of Missouri and University of Nebraska. She said, "Well you won't make it at those schools because you're from a predominantly black school and you won't make it in those types of environments." And I said, "Well with all due respect, all I asked you for was a waiver."
(Blake) [00:29:03] Wow.
(Tyron) [00:29:04] And, you know, proved everybody wrong.
(Blake) [00:29:06] That's amazing. You blow my mind. I'm sitting over here trying to think of what I can tell you that you can't do.
(Tyron) [00:29:13] Well if you're going to challenge me, that'd be a good way to go.
(Blake) [00:29:15] I'm going to have to think about that something that maybe we could do together. Not only did you have a light switch moment you flipped your behavior on. I mean you changed your personality on a dime. And that's not easy when you're hanging out with a group of people that you're getting respect from because you're bucking the system, you know, because you're disruptive. And I would imagine you probably loved those guys. You probably had…
(Tyron) [00:29:38] Ya you know a lot of those guys, not a lot of them. Some of them are gone, dead, some of them are in jail. I wasn't even the best athlete, the best athletes were the ones that couldn't go to college because they were on parole.
(Blake) [00:29:49] You weren't the best athlete?
(Tyron) [00:29:50] No. No. There's two guys that should’ve been NFL players. Unreal athletically. I can't even explain the intangibles they had on the field. One, academically, couldn't cut it and attitude. One couldn't give up the street life, went to college came back, started selling drugs, got on parole. Parole officer wouldn't let him go to Minnesota. I'm like, "This is your only chance out." The parole officer's got to let you go to Minnesota to play football so you can change your life. They didn't allow it. So we know he did continue what he knew...and um...
(Blake) [00:30:17] And this all comes back to your faith. You know on this show and this podcast we talk about the seven dimensions of wellness; you saw me touch base on them this morning and the spiritual dimension is one of those one that I'm particularly fond of because I tend to think that we're spiritual beings.
(Tyron) [00:30:30] It's our superpower.
(Blake) [00:30:31] Yeah and it really drives who we are and I see that with you and I relate to that and I respect that. And I just wonder about it , you know, what is it about Tyron Woodley that has you flipping that switch and flipping your behavior when you have all of these people around you that clearly didn't have that, I mean, what is that? Where does that come from? Why is one person touched by that angel when dozens of others maybe aren't?
(Tyron) [00:30:55] You know, I think of myself as almost like a modern day David. David loved God, he had a pure heart. You know, God called him "a man after my own heart." And he had also had his problems, temptations with women and, you know, just in general, he wasn't a perfect vessel. But God, continued to cause him to triumph even if he didn't deserve to. And I feel like the Goliaths in my life you know whether it's been, you know, my last opponent was a guy that did a poster photoshopped photoshop to be so ginormous, and he's so much bigger than you, he's so much younger than you. How are you going to beat him? His nickname is a gorilla.
So I said, "I'm going to use a quote from Muhammad Ali: 'Let me know how tall he is is so I know how much I need to step back when he fall." I said, "The thing that people don't realize about David is David didn't just use a slingshot for the first time against Goliath. He used it against the lion, he used it against the bear, and he recognized that the armor that everyone else use wasn't for him it was too heavy. He couldn't see. And he used what he knew."
(Blake) [00:31:49] And there's something special about David. David's a messenger of God. David's one of God's appointees and that's where I kind of go back to I mean there's some sort of a blessing around you. There's some sort of a guidance around you that it feels to me like not necessarily everyone has access to.
(Tyron) [00:32:04] I think, you know, I mean I changed my fight name when I got to the UFC. You know I used to come out as just "T Wood". It was a nickname I got from football because I used to hit people, knock helmets off, and I was just known. They say, "Hey, you little man, but you bring the wood" and they used to call me "T Wood" for short. So I changed my nickname to "The Chosen One" because God said, "Many are called but few are chosen."
I feel like the reason why God's given me favor and the reason why he's giving me the right people and put them in my path, and the reason why I've gone through adversity and things that, you know, could have broken anybody and I found a way to continue, is because he can trust me with giving Him glory, he can trust me with getting the message out and using my platform for positive.
And no matter how much I mess up, no matter how many mistakes I'll make, He still can get me to the point where I can come back and be like, you know what, I love my coaches, but God brought them into my life. I love training hard but it ain't just by my work and my deeds that I'm here and I know there's people that need to hear this. I know people that come from my environment that think they can't get out. I had a kid message me and said, "Man, how did you get out of here?" He said, "You know, kids make fun of me because I'm smart and they want me to join this gang. I don't want to join a gang. I walk past them every day and they jump me and they chase me. What do you do?" And I said, "Don't do what I did. I joined the gang." I said, "Don't do that." I said, "You want me to come to the neighborhood?" I gave him my phone number and said, "I will come there and I will talk to the gang members" and say, "You see this kid there? You not going to mess with him. A matter of fact, you're going to look after him and you're going to make sure nobody else messes with him because he is the person that's going to go out here and help change this community." So I bumped into him at a football game. He said, "Man, I appreciate you, man, you're my favorite fighter." But it's just things like that that nobody else can relate to what that kid's going through in that exact neighborhood, in that exact mindset of being smart is something to be made fun of.
(Blake) [00:33:47] I mean I had a little bit of that too I didn't want to be thought of as smart. You know the smart guys were geeky. I remember I had one report card where I got straight A's and I got straight U's which was unsatisfactory. That was the citizenship grade. So it was basically saying that Blake is really smart and he's really a pain in the ass because he's disrupting our class. And I was actually proud of that at the time. And I guess I'm still a little bit like that in some ways. You know, I guess there can be an advantage to that as well.
[00:34:14] So here's what I want to ask you about. I mean, clearly, your faith is a huge part of your life and it's been a driver from the beginning. Was there a moment, was there some defining moment in your life where you felt a connection to God? Where you felt a connection to that source that lit you up, that helped to bring that faith into your life that obviously right now is unshakable?
(Tyron) [00:34:36] That moment happened for me when I moved back to St. Louis. I was in Columbia, Missouri. I was a graduate assistant at University of Missouri and I had just tore my labrum and I was hemmed up in a immobilizer, car packed with all my gear, bringing my son back and I had to stay with my mom.
[00:34:52] It was like man I haven't stayed with my mom seven years you know just as a man I just really felt low. And my son just thought we were homeless. Brought me to tears as a man. I didn't feel like a man and my sister had started to go to this church in East St. Louis. You know my sister was like, you know, my best friend and I went there and I just for once felt like there I had an interaction with God and I wanted to like learn more.
(Blake) [00:35:14] Did you feel an energy energy or what was that like?
(Tyron) [00:35:17] I felt an energy and more so than feeling an energy, I felt something leave me. You know, I've been begging and praying, "You know, God, I feel like, you know, I want temptation and I want all these things to leave me." And then I prayed and prayed and prayed and I knew if I pray strong enough, that God would do it. Most of the time I didn't want to pray for it because I didn't want it to happen. And then I prayed for it and I literally felt like it leave my body.
(Blake) [00:35:40] Wow.
(Tyron) [00:35:40] It was a time where I was like I don't want to, you know, be out chasing women and all this other stuff. The next person I'm with, I'm praying, I'm probably going to end up marrying. That was my mindset at the time and only God could do that to me because, you know, sports and entertainment, the access to temptation, the availability is all there. You know, it was all competition and it's all mindset. Like you know, you want to see if you still got it or not. And he took it away and I know only God can do that.
(Blake) [00:36:06] That's amazing. I have to ask you about this, I'm going to throw you a hard ball. I'll be honest with you, if I'm even in a restaurant and I see a UFC fight going on or a MMA fight fight going on, I'll ask them to change the channel because I don't like to let anything in my mind or in my brain that I feel like has any negativity to me. Because I feel like it has a negative impact on my life. So I'll turn those images off. I certainly wouldn't want my daughter necessarily be exposed to those images. This is what's fascinating to me about you is I experience you as such a man of love and of faith. It's still hard for me to piece together these two pieces of you being one of the most bad ass guys on the planet when it comes to being a fighter. And I just wonder what your thought is about the impact that those images might have on the youth. You know that might have on young kids that are seeing those images. Is that a positive message to the youth to see two men trying to beat each other to death?
(Tyron) [00:37:00] You know, when I first started fighting my mom was like, "Why are you doing this? Are you having depression and what's going on? Because for martial arts I started late. I started martial arts at 24, 25 years old. That's late. You know most fighters have started a lot earlier.
[00:37:13] Martial arts to me teaches discipline, respect, honor. And the thing that I say when I go and talk to kids is, what you watch, if I bring a highlight film and I show you, and you see the end product. You see the top of the iceberg. You don't see what's underneath. What's underneath is years of sacrifice, dedication, and respect, honor, discipline, falling on your face, getting back up. And if you divide each martial art, if you talk about just boxing, there's going to be respect.
[00:37:37] Just Karate, just Jiu Jitsu, just wrestling, just Taekwondo, just Hapkido, just Judo. If you separate the martial arts, each individual sport won't seem as barbaric but when you merge them together that becomes a mixed martial arts. So it's the ultimate chess match. So when I fight, I fight as a competition. I fight to break the tape first, I fight to hit the bullseye, I fight to score the touchdown on an eighty yard, pass when you're down, you know, by six points in a short time. So my mindset is to know my opponent so well that if I need to be him I can be him, know myself, be honest with my strengths, be honest with my weaknesses. If I was my opponent how would I train to fight me? Now let's make my game plan off of that. Win every moment in a fight. If we get in a clench, win that moment. If we get on the ground, win that moment. If I get hit, recover. So I view and visualize. So when you think about the mixed martial arts, what you got to see is the end product.
If people actually learn the person and the story of what's behind it, what it took to get there, the personal life, injuries, the travel, being away from your family how that has an impact, your mind. You know, the sponsors, endorsements, the contracts; it's not just competing anymore. To be able to go out there and still put on a tight performance that makes people want to watch you, makes them want to continue to buy a Pay Per View. That's my answer because when you think about it that way it takes the bar fight out of it. It takes the, you know, street fight or guys just kicking and I want to hit somebody in the face. Why do they do that to each other? And this is our ultimate, the ultimate chess match and it just teaches people so much discipline, so much respect, so much integrity, weight loss. Guys are doing yoga, strength and conditioning, and then all these different martial arts and then they might have injuries and they got to do all these recovery things. So there's so much to do and how do you fit that balance and science on how you fit it all in and how you prioritize it. It's probably one of the most remarkable sport when you think about it.
(Blake) [00:39:26] A lot of complexity underneath it. Now I understand why you're a champion because, I mean, being someone who's good at math and good at science and good all of the other things, I could see where you would be uniquely qualified to put all of those things together. How's your motivation today versus when you first started? How motivated are you? And tell me a little bit about the black belt?
(Tyron) [00:39:46] My motivation when I first started, I would have beat your head off to be a world champion. There was nothing I wouldn't have done to do it and I never got in the sport, I know how hard it was. I never got into the sport to not be the champion because I knew how hard, it's too hard. I can do, I mean I've got a college degree, I can go be a coach, you know I can do something different. I can be in business...
(Blake) [00:40:02] And now do you still have that same level of motivation?
(Tyron) [00:40:04] I didn't have it. The politics took away and the fans are just so fairweather, back and forth, and just the respect was lost. Integrity was lost in the martial art had left and it became pure business. People think they got to talk crap, talk trash. They want to be like this fighter because he's making a lot of money and I didn't want to try to wear a suit and act like him and that's not what I got into it for.
But this young fighter that I just fought, he lit a fire underneath me. He reminded me of myself. He reminded me of the undefeated Tyron that was fighting for his first world title that never thought he could lose and, you know, he really believed it. I did a faceoff with him in L.A. on a Capri press conference deal. And I looked at his eyes and I'm like, this dude's coming for my belt and he meant it and I meant it and we didn't back down.
And I told my coach, I said, "This is personal." I said, "For everything that I stand for, I'm fighting for that. For everything that's after this, I'm fighting for that, for my family. He's coming for what we built." And I said, "Don't let me ease up. Don't let me take a break. Unless I'm about to die, don't let me ease up." I said, "This kid is coming for my belt." Everybody said it but he's the first one that I looked at his eyes and he meant it and he was coming with it.
(Blake) [00:41:12] You can see that by looking at a man's eyes?
(Tyron) [00:41:13] I can see that by looking in his eyes. I've seen fear. I've seen someone, they haven't quite figured out the Rubik's Cube, they don't know how to deal with me yet. I'm a complex person to try and figure out in the octagon. But this kid was confident, genuinely. He wanted it bad. He honestly thought he had what it takes to beat me.
(Blake) 00:41:30] Did you see a younger version of yourself?
(Tyron) [00:41:31] A younger version of me. A younger version of me with the machine behind. UFC paying for his mansion to stay in in Vegas and he got the UFC Performance Institute and culinary artisan chef helping him with his diet. He has access to all the best facilities, the best trainers and, you know, basically was spoiled any he started getting into the media and talking all this stuff as if he was already champion. He's going to bully me, he's going to do all this other stuff and I watched him said, "That's what I did. I thought I had already won the fight." I had already had a shelf in my gym, in my mind, where the belt was going to go and I had it planned out. And I was fighting for everything else and everybody else besides myself. And I said, "I'm going to be quiet this time. No interview that I don't have to do, I'm not doing it; only the mandatory stuff. I'm not going to talk a lot of stuff, I'm not going to give up a lot of what I'm doing and I remember going to 28 days straight with no break. And I said, "I've got a media day, Thursday, the 16th the 17th, which is two weeks from now. I'll take a break on that day. I'm going to schedule my training break on that one."
(Blake) [00:42:30] And you took him down.
(Tyron) [00:42:31] I took him down. You're like, my coach trained me in the last three fights to go all the way to the finish. He trained me to finish, to finish, to finish. So when I finished him in the second round I was like, I'm number one. I'm supposed to win. I'm the champion. I'm the best in the world. I'm not going to jump and celebrate, I'm not going to go crazy. I'm supposed to beat the very best that come in here because I'm the baddest dude in this division.
But when my coach put the black belt around me, the emotion was just overwhelming. He'd been training me since an amateur, 2006. I made him train me. You know, personally, he's been a mentor. He's been there. He's sacrificed so much time away from his son. Flying from Florida. There's nothing I couldn't ask him do. He slept on floors, couches, and to get my black belt from a guy like that meant way more than the UFC belt.
(Blake) [00:43:16] What a moment. Tyron, before we wrap up, I just want to leave you with one last question and get your perspective on this. The show's called Wellness Revolutionaries. You're clearly a Wellness Revolutionary, one of the fascinating things to me about you is that when we talk about those dimensions of wellness clearly you're a Wellness Revolutionary in the physical dimension. I would also put you in the spiritual dimension and the emotional dimension, probably the social dimension for some of the work that I've heard that you do in your community and so on. You know there's a wellness crisis that's taking place out there in the world as well. There's a lot of statistics and a lot of bad things going on out there. I know there's not an easy answer to this but I'm curious to get your perspective. How do we collectively turn this tide in America and in the world and get back on track to being the healthy, happy nation that we have the potential to be?
(Tyron) [00:44:06] I think it's a social responsibility for a person in a position of authority or power or a celebrity to utilize our platform. Now we can go out and we can go out in a boat and we can throw the line out there and bring in one fish at a time. But if you can get a Lebron James that can drop a net and reel in thousands of fish at a time, I think it's our job and, you know, a Kaepernick that, you know, no matter what anyone said he had to stand up for what he believed in the way he reached the masses.
And I feel like myself, and other athletes, we are so scared about ourselves, our bottom line. What is the UFC going to say? What is the NFL, the NBA...we're scared to take chances. Muhammad Ali was never scared to take that chance. He missed four years of competition in his prime because of what he believe in. So I think that the more opportunities that we get to talk about childhood obesity, bullying, you know, respecting of authority and also you know the other side of the coin, police brutality and things that are very sensitive, we can sweep it under the rug. Social media has brought it out. Social media has removed the rug and all the dirt that's been there, we can see instantly, we can see visually and it's our job to clean it up and address difficult, uncomfortable, subject of race, poverty, empowerment, women's rights. You know, all these different things and nobody wants to talk about, the LGBT community...nobody wants to talk about it. And these are real life issues and these are kids that are going to shape and form our future and we don't have time for them. We don't have time to talk to them.
[00:45:25] When the things happened in Ferguson, I went to go talk to close to 40 schools and I didn't do it for TV, I didn't have all these camera crew, I did it by myself because I can't go and tell another man how to be more of a man or be closer to the man that I am or be a man like this guy is, you can't do that to another men. That generation is already going to hell in a handbag. But what we can do, is go to the generation before, from high school down, and we can educate them, give them inspiration and hope because they're learning from social media, they're learning from entertainers, celebrities, politicians, you know, they're learning from these people and whatever we're teaching them. I mean, so that's what I would say.
(Blake) [00:46:02] Wow. Well thank you for being a Wellness Revolutionary for being a fisherman for casting such a wide net.
(Tyron) [00:46:09] Gotta drop the net.
(Blake) [00:46:09] And hey, we're in this fight together and I'm proud to be on the same team with you...
(Tyron) [00:46:13] I appreciate that.
(Blake) [00:46:13] ...in this fight together because I certainly don't want to be on the other side.
(Tyron) [00:46:17] I use this hashtag all the time: #sameteam.
(Blake) [00:46:19] Same team. It's just been such a sincere pleasure to spend an hour with you. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule and I look forward to seeing you more and more on this journey down the road.
(Tyron) [00:46:41] Sounds good.
[00:46:43] Here's something I didn't tell you about Tyron, up front. He was a featured speaker at the very first MINDBODY BOLD Conference in 2014. And I'm going to admit it, before I knew very much about him, I was skeptical about what a UFC champion would have to say that I would actually be interested in. But I'll tell you, he quickly won me over that day and I genuinely loved sitting down with him this year at our fifth BOLD Conference and getting to know him a little bit. You know he's been to BOLD every single year and it was really cool to hear him say that we were like family and I left the interview feeling the exact same way about him. Definitely a kindred spirit and fellow Wellness Revolutionary and just somebody I really like a lot. Excited to see what the future holds for him and I know this is a man who's going to have a positive impact for a long time to come with a lot of people. So a big thank you to Tyron Woodley, UFC welterweight champion.
[00:47:40] You can find him at tyronwoodley.com or follow him @twoodley on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. Please, if you would, rate and review us so other Revolutionaries can find and join us on this journey and if you liked this episode you probably know someone else who might enjoy it. So please share it, pass it on. Thanks to Jonny Lang for his song "Make it Move" and to the podcast team: Shelly Northrop, Meredith Simmons, and Lauren McAlister. And last but not least, I'd like to thank my producer Brent Pearson. Of course I appreciate you, taking the time to listen. I'm Blake Beltram. The revolution is on. See you next time.
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