Tyron Woodley was planning on making a big splash during his walkout to Saturday's welterweight title defense. Instead, he ended up making a bold statement, drawing inspiration from an athlete outside of MMA.
The 170-pound champion successfully defended his belt for the fourth time with a second-round submission of Darren Till in the UFC 228 main event in Dallas this past weekend. He said during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on Monday that he was inspired to shake up his walkout routine after reading the latest about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been at the center of a political firestorm ever since he kneeled during the national anthem prior to a 2016 NFL game in protest over racial injustice.
Woodley ended up walking out to the John Legend song "Glory," which is from the civil rights-themed film "Selma." There's a line in the song that especially connects with the champ: "That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up." Woodley is from Ferguson, Missouri, which in 2014 was the scene of riots after an unarmed African-American teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer.
Originally, Woodley had planned to walk out to his own soon-to-be-released song "I'll Beat Yo Ass," which he recorded with rapper Wiz Khalifa. They were going to perform the song together live during the walkout. But Woodley had second thoughts -- "I've never seen a person walk out to their own song ... [and] win the fight" -- and decided to scrap the idea.
"Then, the day before [the fight], I started looking at all the Kaepernick stuff," Woodley said, referring to the furor over Nike featuring the free-agent quarterback in an advertising campaign.
Reading about what Kaepernick has been going through -- he has been without an NFL team since the start of the 2017 season -- got Woodley thinking about his own situation with the UFC. He has referred to himself as "the worst-treated champion" in the promotion's history and continues to have an icy relationship with UFC president Dana White.
"All the weapons that are always against me, and how much harder I always got to push to just get the even level of respect," said Woodley. "It's my chance to make a statement. ... I think I sent out a strong message."
Woodley says he's worst-treated champion in history of UFC
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That message will stand in bold contrast to the words and persona of his likely next opponent, Colby Covington, who has gained notice with a "Make MMA Great Again" shtick. After winning an interim championship this summer, Covington took his belt to the White House to meet President Donald Trump.
Covington also was a guest on Helwani's show on Monday, and he said he's hoping to face Woodley on Nov. 3 at Madison Square Garden.
"It makes sense to go to the world's biggest arena for the world's biggest fight," he said.
One sticking point: Woodley dislocated his right hand and tore ligaments in Saturday's fight. He feared that he had broken the hand, but his doctor told him earlier on Monday that there was no break. Woodley is undergoing an MRI on Tuesday to determine whether surgery is needed. Either way, he believes he would be good to go in time for Nov. 3.
Covington is all-in and ready to ramp up the divisive drama.
"The lines that are going to be drawn between us, the angles, the story line," he told Helwani. "We have a serious history, Ariel. Used to train together -- everybody knows that and knows which sides we're talking about. He's on the liberal soy boy side; I'm on the MAGA side. It's too much juiciness in that fight."
Woodley, for his part, isn't shrinking from the matchup's bitter conflict but hopes people understand that his stance is about more than political theatre.
"We're in interesting territory, with Kaepernick and Ferguson and police brutality," said the champ. "And if this is a fight that can draw more attention -- I want to see some people start handling the history, not just jump in to the Nike campaign. Everybody's so f---ing bent out of shape about Nike campaigning behind Kaepernick. How about we talk about the issues that we're talking about, the reason behind kneeling at the national anthem?"