Tyron Woodley has established himself as the UFC’s dominant welterweight, a versatile wrestling-disciplined champion who packs a heavy punch and has conquered a variety of foes from rugged former champion Robbie Lawler to submission artist Demian Maia.
Yet, when Woodley says, “I tell myself to get out of my comfort zone — my bubble — and stretch myself,” he isn’t talking about fighting.
As he heads to Saturday’s UFC 228 main-event title defense against England’s unbeaten challenger Darren Till (17-0-1), Woodley (18-3-1) has found an outlet for his multi-dimensional fighting talents by pressing himself to become a renaissance man of entertainment.
In addition to his work as a studio analyst on Fox, Woodley, 36, has taken on acting roles, recorded a rap album and performed stand-up comedy at an L.A. venue in the past year.
Fox officials were impressed that Woodley studied the voices and styles of each of the other UFC expert analysts before coming aboard, assuring his contributions would be unique. His rapping is shaped by his experiences growing up in the recently volatile Ferguson, Mo., and he strives to avoid casting “only as an MMA fighter” in film work.
“I just don’t want to be the weakest link in anything,” Woodley said.
As he returns from a shoulder injury to defend his belt for the fourth occasion, Woodley arrives feeling assured of victory.
“In this fight, I’ve got the experience, the wisdom and I punch harder,” Woodley said. “I’m the better boxer, and the wrestling and grappling is not even close. He’s never had the experience I’ve had in consistently fighting the giants in the sport that I have.”
While the UFC has begun a practice of weighing in possible replacement title fighters in case one of the planned participants can’t make the cut, Woodley objects, standing his ground by saying he wants no part of that scenario.
“Training camp is a lot of money and time, and I don’t cut corners. … It’s $60,000. I’m not going to fight a … wrestler … when I’ve prepared for a striker,” Woodley said at a lunch with reporters in Los Angeles last week.
“Whether he weighs 170 or 176, he’s still going to get his ass kicked. I’m ready to fight him. I’ll fight anyone on a full training camp, but this is not a circus to me. [Saturday], I’m fighting Darren Till. It’s Till or no fight at all. How many times do you see” a last-minute replacement opponent “in the NCAA tournament or NBA? Let’s be professional like them. This is not bingo.”
While Woodley praised Till’s deliberate route to victory over Thompson along with the contender’s “sniper” of a left hand, he expects the younger foe to yield to an unpredictable and varied attack.
“You’ve seen me in wrestling matches, boxing matches, chess matches. … He’s difficult, but I have so many ways to win this fight — [Till’s] confidence and being tough is not enough,” Woodley said.
“I don’t want to be a challenger again, and I want the platform to motivate.”