Over the last few months, Tyron Woodley has generated dozens of headlines by claiming that, even as the UFC welterweight champion, he experiences racism on a frequent basis. Some fans have responded to these claims by accusing him of “race-baiting”. Others have applauded him for shining a light on these ugly issues which, to this day, have their claws embedded in North American culture.
On a recent episode of The MMA Hour, host Ariel Helwani gave Woodley the chance to elaborate on his recent comments. The champ did not hesitate to do so, explaining that he’d actually prepared notes for the interview so as to assure he articulated his points effectively.
According to Woodley, racism is not always an overt thing. It is a more subtle form of racism that he experiences most often.
“If you look at the history of our sport – and it’s not even our sport, the history of the American culture – certain things are subliminally embraced that are racist. When you say to me ‘Tyron, you are well spoken’, what does that mean? Does that mean I’m well spoken comparable to all the mixed martial artists, the 500 UFC fighters on the roster? Or does that mean as a black male in America?”
“When you say I’m a freak athlete, does that mean I don’t work hard, that I’m going to fade in the later rounds? That I don’t have great cardio, that I don’t have a great skill set? It comes off to me… it almost sounds barbaric, like ‘hey, you’re strong, you knock people out, but if it gets to the later rounds you might get tired, you might fade and all those muscles come at a cost’.”
“Those fans have come over and brought that same ideology into our sport – they look at the African American athletes – and not only the fans, the judges. You might have a judge that can be looking at me and waiting for me to fatigue. Waiting on me retire. I’ve listened to people broadcast my fights, [when] I completely steamrolled Carlos Condit in the first round, and the broadcaster says ‘lets watch the technique of Carlos Condit and the cardio of Tyron Woodley’.”
“Why would you paint that picture when I completely dominated the individual in the round, why wouldn’t you watch the butt-whipping I just put on my man, and see if [I] can do it again in the second and third round?”
“When you say ‘hey Tyron, I knew you in college, you were a freakish athlete’, no I wasn’t a damn freakish athlete. I was a hard worker,” Woodley continued. “I was dedicated. I had a strong skill set, I had a strong will, I had a strong mindset and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s why I was a great athlete, not because I had this extra calve muscle, and I was extra strong because I was African American. That’s a slap in my face. I have an issue with that, when people say ‘watch Tyron in the later rounds’.”
“The perception is there. I think it’s indirect most times, but sometimes it’s blatant.”
Finally, Woodley reiterated that this issue is so deep-seated in American culture, that many people don’t even notice it.
“I think the mindset of the American public, we’re insensitive to these things that take place. We’re insensitive that some people are discriminated on.”
Woodley’s next fight will occur on March 4, in the main event of UFC 209, when he will defend his title in a rematch against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. The two fought to a draw in the co-main event of UFC 205. While Woodley assured Helwani that he is focused on this upcoming title defense, he also affirmed that his fight against racism is not over, as he strives to set a good example for his kids, and effect change on whatever scale he’s able.
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This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 1/23/2017.