COLUMBIA, Mo. • In today’s Post-Dispatch we featured UFC welterweight Tyron Woodley, the St. Louis native and former Big 12 champion wrestler at Missouri, and previewed his upcoming co-main event at UFC 174. A few more notes, quotes and stats …
• Woodley’s wrestling background plays a role in his octagon repertoire, but it doesn’t define him. He showed flashes of skill as a striker early in his career and prides himself on that part of his game. “I think I’m to the point where people respect that I have the ability to wrestle and knock guys out,” he said.
The numbers would suggest so. In his last three UFC fights, while in a standing position, Woodley has landed 74.5 percent of strikes attempted. He’s landed what MMA defines as significant strikes 40.0 percent of the time. His opponent Saturday in Vancouver, Rory MacDonald, has attempted more strikes his last three fights — 446 compared to 239 for Woodley — but landed just 37.2 percent and 35.4 percent of significant strikes.
• More from Woodley on his 24-year-old opponent: “Rory’s one of the original kids that started putting all the disciplines together. He started wrestling and boxing and MMA, all those arts, at the same time. From the beginning until now he’s always been focused on being a complete fighter. For me, sometimes if you don’t have the background in one sport you can be lost in the shuffle. If you’ve got a background in wrestling, you’ve trained with high-level wrestlers. But if you haven’t been in the grind in the trenches as a wrestler … I think I have the advantage in that category.”
• Known as a powerful striker, Woodley’s wrestling background still pays off when he gets his opponent down on the mat. “He’s always a good striker, I thought,” said his trainer, Din Thomas, a former UFC fighter. “The area he’s improved on most is his ground game. He’s very solid on the ground. He’s always been good on his feet, but with the wrestling, he can fight wherever, because he can dictate where the fight’s going to be. He can out-wrestle anybody.”
• Woodley will always call St. Louis home — but the area has a long way to go before he’ll consider it a home for MMA. Aspiring fighters from St. Louis area gyms are more occupied competing against other local gyms, he said, and less consumed with striking it big on the national map. He said the local fighting scene suffers from “small-mindedness.”
MMA “is visible (in St. Louis), but guys here are like an old hairstyle that they think is new,” he said. “They think they’ve got this amazing Afro but then realize Afros have been out for 20 years,” he said. “Everybody else is doing something different. We’re on cassettes and CDs (in St. Louis), while everyone else is on Pandora. It’ll take some catching up. Once we change the mindset when they’re training and coaching, that’s when the process will start. I’m too far along in my career to bring things up to speed.”
• Woodley is just one of three former Mizzou wrestler who have ascended in MMA. For years shunned by UFC president Dana White, fellow welterweight Ben Askren was released from the Bellator circuit last fall and signed a two-year deal with ONE Fighting Championship, the top MMA promoter in Asia.
Askren, a two-time NCAA champion and 2008 Olympian, remained unbeaten with a victory by submission last month in Singapore, after which he challenged ONE FC champion Nobutatsu Suzuki with typical Askren bravado. “Suzuki is going to bring me my belt,” he said. “He can put it in the middle of the cage and give it to me, or I can take it the hard way.”
Askren met with UFC officials last fall about joining the organization but was ultimately turned away. ”They’ve got 84 guys on roster, and frankly, I'd beat half of those dudes with one arm tied behind my back and blindfolded," he later told MMAFigthing.com, citing the long-running feud between UFC and Bellator. "Some of those guys, they really suck. They're really bad at the sport of MMA. So when it came down to it, I think it's all about the Bellator bickering and whatnot. …Honestly, if you guys knew all the little (bull) behind the scenes between both organizations, you guys would be cracking up so hard."
Former Mizzou wrestler Michael Chandler is still fighting in Bellator. The former lightweight champion has lost his last two fights and stands at 12-2.
“It shows the hard work and dedication that we put into Missouri can translate into MMA, that Tiger style that we talked about building that program,” Woodley said of the Mizzou lineage through MMA. “The work ethic, the mentality, the tenacity, it’s really turned over into mixed martial arts. And you’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”