Tyron Woodley has everything a guy could want in life: A beautiful home in a chic neighborhood, a loving family, financial security and professional success.
He’s parlayed his success as one of the elite fighters in mixed martial arts into opportunities as a fight analyst, a television host, an actor, a trainer and much more.
He overcame oppressive poverty in a downtrodden section of Ferguson, Missouri, to become a one-man business juggernaut, setting up his children for the kind of life he couldn’t even dream to have. Woodley is exactly who you’d want your children to grow up to be, particularly if you come from a low-income area, yet there haven’t been any national ad campaigns built around his incredible story.
Something is missing. For all of the big wins, the championship and the adulation that goes with being a UFC superstar, Woodley has yet to have that career-defining fight.
Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Jack Nicklaus had Arnold Palmer. Bjorn Borg had John McEnroe. But Woodley has … well, no one.
Despite victories over elite opponents such as Robbie Lawler, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Demian Maia, Kelvin Gastelum, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley, among others, none of those bouts made the sports world stand still, as it will on Oct. 6 when Khabib Nurmagomedov defends his lightweight title against ex-champion Conor McGregor at UFC 229 in Las Vegas.
People in the sport know how good Woodley is. Darren Till, who will challenge Woodley on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in the main event of UFC 228 for the welterweight title, is well aware.
But the broader public hasn’t caught on to Woodley yet. It’s frustrated him at times, but his approach now is to shrug his broad shoulders and move on.
“You can’t deny what I’ve done,” Woodley said.
Till is a massive welterweight who would probably struggle trying to make the middleweight division’s 185-pound championship weight limit, let alone welterweight’s 170 pounds. He can punch, as well, and poses a threat that Woodley recognizes.
“Power is always a threat in any fight,” Woodley said. “He can punch. He’s a big guy and he has good strikes. He’s a threat if you stand in front of him. You allow him to get off those powerful strikes he has, you are asking for problems. He’s a legitimate challenge.”
Till, though, hasn’t been around that long and hasn’t built up the kind of reputation that reaches beyond the MMA audience, so a win over him won’t catapult Woodley the way a similar win over Georges St-Pierre would have done.
St-Pierre is the greatest welterweight in MMA history and among the handful of greatest fighters who has ever lived. Woodley following him as champion is kind of like Aaron Rodgers following the legendary Brett Favre as the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback. Because Favre set so many records and was so good for so long, Rodgers needed to do a lot more to gain attention.
He did and eventually garnered his own recognition as one of the best quarterbacks ever to play.
And that’s kind of where Woodley is at. He’s at a point in his career where he just needs to continue to win until it starts to dawn on people just how good he actually has been.
He’s beyond worrying about the public’s perception of him. He’s accomplished more in his professional life than he could have ever possibly hoped, and if some random fan or MMA reporter doesn’t want to recognize the extraordinary work he’s done, he’s at peace with that.
“You can’t allow yourself to be defined by what other people think,” Woodley said. “I show respect to my opponent by coming ready to fight every time and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I could sit here and talk a long time about, “I did this and that, and who else has done that?” but I think at the end of the day, when you look back on my career, I think what I have done will speak for itself.
“I just need to keep winning and keep producing and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to work out.”
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