UFC Fighter Tyron Woodley Finds Inspiration in Rappers With Something to Say
Ultimate Fighting Championship will host its very first mixed martial arts event at Madison Square Garden in New York City this Saturday (Nov. 12). Shaping up to be one of the biggest nights in the promotion company's history, UFC 205 will feature some of the top-ranked fighters in action, including three huge title fights.
Among those featured on the highly anticipated UFC 205 card is Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley. The 34-year-old from Ferguson, Mo., who defends his championship title this weekend against Stephen Thompson, looks to retain the belt he first won over the summer at UFC 201. Woodley is known as one of the most powerful UFC fighters and relies on music to help him prepare for his fights. One particular genre that the champ is highly fond of is hip-hop music.
Hailing from one of the most popular states in Midwest hip-hop, the UFC fighter has an extensive knowledge in rap, and even ties to a few superstars from St. Louis' rap scene. Growing up listening to the likes of 2Pac, OutKast and The Notorious B.I.G. to name a few, the fighting champion continues to stay on the pulse of the newest hip-hop music, even with his strict and vigorous training schedule.
With just a day before his bout, XXL caught up with this ultimate fighter and avid hip-hop fan to find out he prepares to beat his competitor, his entrance music, love for hip-hop and his appearance in the film Straight Outta Compton.
XXL: How does it feel to be a part of the very first UFC event held in New York City?
Tyron Woodley: You know this is a legendary arena. It's the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. Everybody, no matter what industry you work in -- music or sports -- MSG is the biggest platform you can perform at so being that I'm gonna fight in the same arena as Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali and all these greats, it's going to be nuts and an amazing experience for me.
You defend your Welterweight title this Saturday against Stephen Thompson. How do you get game plan for someone like him?
The main thing is I know he's frustrating not only because of his style, but just him as a person. Certain things about him bug me but you have to respect your opponent and acknowledge what that person does, but you also have to kind of disrespect them like, You know what? I'm gonna stop you at what you do and make you fight this type of fight. And that’s the toughest part of not being frustrated with him so I have to find ways to counter and attack.
How long have you been prepping for this fight?
You know, when I started prepping for this fight, I was already in decent shape, training, getting my body prepared. I don’t like to have any surprises come up so I only needed six to eight weeks of hard training and tactics to specifically get ready for this opponent, but it all depends. If I'm straight outta of shape for a fight, I might need 12 weeks or more to get in shape.
Have you picked a song yet as your entrance music for this Saturday's fight?
I don't know yet. I get in these moods where I might have one particular song that I play during the whole entire camp but I've been going back and forth between old and new music so it's been tough to decide. But I've been listening to this one song, titled "Champion" and it's by Jadakiss, Lloyd Banks, French Montana and Junior Reid and just the lyrics to it makes for a perfect song to walk out to so I might roll with that one.
Why do you feel the need to play such an East Coast anthem for your entrance song?
When you fighting in New York, I feel like it would be disrespectful if I didn’t walk out with some legendary East Coast hip-hop.
What made you want to get involved in a sport like MMA?
What got me into MMA first was that I was a wrestler and I was a gangbanger getting into trouble a lot and getting into fights. I grew up in a family of 15 in a four-bedroom house. It was dysfunctional, so that alone made me want to be an MMA fighter. It's really the only sport where you gotta basically depend on yourself. If you get into an armbar and someone locks it down on you, it's easy for you to tap out but sometimes dealing with certain things, fighting through certain adversities and being that I've been in some of the toughest situations in life, it just gives me an edge on my opponent that I'm going to torture him and beat him up.
I guarantee you he's never been in a street fight. I used to be in a street fight at least twice a week, so locking me in a cage with somebody, with a set of rules and a referee to jump in if something get ugly and a time limit, like it don't scare me. Anxiety is 30 dudes trying to jump me because I'm in a gang and I gotta run and if I get tired and they catch me I could be dead.
What do you find yourself listening to nowadays?
Man, I listen to all types of music but I just got put on to this dude Ro James. He has this song called “Permission” and it’s dope! Kendrick Lamar is a complete beast on the mic. He's one of my favorites right now. Another rapper I really like is Logic. He’s fire. This new artist Raury is incredible too. Man, he's something else. He's like a young Andre 3000 in the voice. Vic Mensa is another young dude I love to listen to and I really like the direction he’s taken with his music. He's very consistent. I just really love rappers that have something to say.
Tell me about some of the hip-hop albums you find yourself listening to. New or old.
I love playing Rick Ross' Port of Miami album. Jeezy's Thug Motivation 101 is a classic in my opinion and I still listen to that album to this day. I'm a big fan of OutKast so pretty much any album they put out is great in my opinion, but I find myself listening to Aquemini a lot. Anything Kendrick Lamar does is great. To Pimp a Butterfly and Good kid, m.A.A.d. city are two albums I play a lot. I love 2Pac albums, especially right when he was about to sign with Death Row Records. He had so much passion in his music, so many messages. It's one of those hard questions to answer because you have so many classic albums from different types of rappers.
Tell me about the Missouri hip-hop scene when you were growing up. Did you know any of the big stars coming out of your state?
I knew a lot of the producers out of the area like the Trak Starz and Trackboyz. I knew J-Kwon. I knew his producers as well. I knew Chingy too. He went to the high school nearby me. I didn't know Nelly but I recently met him, but our families are connected in such a weird way. One of the St Lunatics, City Spud, he's like my brother-in-law so I've been in the room with those guys and didn't even know them at the time.
Growing up, we actually listened to a lot of music from different cultures so I was listening to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and N.W.A a lot. Like I remember recording over my mom's cassettes and putting on "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" and my mom be like, "What the hell?" Being that I was born in '82, I've been listening to all of the classics throughout my years.
You have an extensive knowledge in hip-hop, so what do you think about the new class of rappers today compared to the rappers from the 1990s and early 2000s?
It's different goals, you know? I think people that came out originally like 2Pac, Biggie, Snoop Dogg and even T.I. and Ludacris, they were original with their vibe but at the same time they were classics. Like I was listening to an MC Breed and 2Pac song, "I Gotta Get Mine" and like the bars that 2Pac spit on that song is one of the greatest verses I ever heard and it made me think about how I feel.
I can put that song against any of these new school songs right now and it wouldn't even come close so that’s how you know music transcends and it becomes a classic. These artists nowadays don’t want to have accountability. They're like, "I don't care. I don't feel like I owe homage to the old school. That's the old school we the new rap," but I guarantee you nobody is gonna go back and listen to this kind of music 10 years from now, they gonna be like what the hell was I thinking about. Their music won't even exist and we’ll look back like what the hell was I listening to back then. I love timeless music and that kind of music will never die.
Last week, Lil Wayne had some controversial remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement. How do you feel about what he had to say?
I feel like if he hasn't dealt with any sort of racism he should act like he knows it's out there. Even if he hasn't experienced racism that doesn't mean it does not exist. He's said before he feels indebted to a white police officer for saving his life, so I respect that, but at the same time don't act like there's nothing wrong out here.
You were in the movie Straight Outta Compton. What was your experience like being in the film and did you get a chance to meet Dr. Dre and Ice Cube?
Yeah, I played the role of T-Bone from Lench Mob so I dealt with Ice Cube a lot. I was around Cube and Dre a lot during the set. Those guys are so legendary. The thing I enjoyed the most was that they really and truly have the streets behind them. They walking on the set as billionaires and millionaires with no security and we're on a Crip set shooting this film.
They let people on the set with them and they spoke to everyone and even took pictures with fans and staff. You know, they really embraced the role but they also let people know without saying, "We came from this, but we want to stay in this and we used our gifts of music and lyrics and persona to get out of our situations and now we using the power for change." The entire experience was historical for me. We were filmig the movie while the riots were going down in Ferguson, so that was crazy because I grew up in that same exact street.
Would you ever be part of another hip-hop biopic?
I'm always down for another hip-hop biopic. I was up for the Tupac film but I actually had a World Championship fight that had to get ready for so that fell through the cracks. Fighting is my primary source of income and I have a several years left in the sport, but it's so many opportunities and things I want to do that I have not been able to do.
Did you ever attempt to go after a rap career being that you're a huge hip-hop fan?
Never [laughs]. I had fun with it but I knew it wasn't a career path. I used to freestyle a little bit back in college but when you have a few drinks in your system you probably start thinking your Jay Z rapping, but never took it seriously.
Did you think the movie was gonna be as successful as it is?
I knew that F. Gary Gray and Ice Cube were very particular about the movie and how it was shot. They didn't want any of the story lines told in a non-authentic way. I remember Cube would battle for making sure the storyline was correct. I appreciate his passion for the film. Gary would tell them about the brands and the clothing trends that were big in the days, so they both were to the tee trying to be exact with the film and it really showed when the movie came out.
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