Last week, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight champion Tyron Woodley revealed that his race played a huge part in the way he was getting treated as champion, saying he was "by far the worst-treated champion in UFC history, blatantly, facts."
And you have to look no further than his social media accounts to see the constant racist remarks left by unruly and racist fans, according to "The Chosen One."
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Woodley spoke in depth on his stance, saying he wasn’t going to back down and says that American culture is subliminally insensitive and most don’t realize that they are indeed being racist or are discriminating against someone.
And he has his own experiences to prove his point.
"There have been obstacles in my life, and I have overcome those obstacles. And me bringing those things up will make it seem as if I’m complaining and everybody is waiting for me to be the race-baiting, or race card player. But, if you look at the history of our sport, not even our sport, the history of the American culture, certain things are subliminally embraced that people do not understand that are racist. When you say to me, ‘Tyron, you are well-spoken.’ What does that mean? Does that mean I’m well-spoken compared to all the mixed martial artists, the 500 UFC fighters on the roster? Or does that mean that as a black male in America you are well-spoken compared to other African-Americans? What does that mean? People say that and don’t understand what it means. When you say that I am a freak athlete, does that mean I don’t work hard? That I am 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 like, ‘Man, you are a strong person.’ And it almost sounds barbaric like, you are strong, knock people out but if it gets to the later rounds you might get tired, fade and those muscles will come at a cost. I think that the mindset of the American public, we are subliminally insensitive that these things take place. We are insensitive to the fact that some people are discriminated on."
Prior to Woodley, there have been countless African-American champions who have gone on to received big paydays, top sponsorships and the respect and treatment most people would say is far from being poorly-treated from fans and promoters alike, including Quinton Jackson, Jon Jones, and Demetrious Johnson.
Yet, not once have any of those aforementioned fighters ever "pulled the race card" or hinted at racism and discrimination in the sport. But as Woodley stated, the difference between himself and any of those champions is that he is actually speaking up on the issue and even has some of their support.
"It’s not that I am different, it’s just that I’m speaking and I was bold enough to speak on it. I am not going to name names, but if I could show you the direct messages and calls I have gotten from some of those champions we’re talking about, and also Caucasian Americans, Indian Americans, and they say, ‘Tyron, it’s a bold thing that you are doing, but I support it. I have experienced this and I am glad you said it because I have been going through this and it’s tough spot can’t really say something about it.’ Think about the athlete, not just African-Americans, but the athlete in general when you go out on something so boldly when you already know that some people will say your playing the victim. And in doing that, you think if you take a loss that you will no longer be with the company or that you won’t get that sponsorship or opportunities and they are fearful for saying it. And I was one of those individuals in 2016, but when Muhammad Ali died, I started thinking about what he did and it was never convenient. It was never comfortable or the right time. Same thing with any other freedom fighter, Martin Luther King, and I’m not comparing myself to them, because I know people will take this to left field; I’m not comparing myself to Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King; I’m just telling you that at that time they did not know they were going to be Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King, figures that did so much outside of their field to impact change. They did it because it was right. So I am bringing to light some situations that happened to me, to some of my peers that exist in this sport. not only in this sport, but sports in general. We need to bring this out on the table as uncomfortable as it is, we need to discuss it and talk about it."
Woodley admits he’s taking advantage of his current platform as welterweight champion mainly because he has three young boys to worry about and protect and set an example for; which is obviously commendable.
That said, most — Stephen Thompson included — don’t think there is an issue of racism in mixed martial arts (MMA). But you won’t convince Woodley otherwise and it won’t stop him from trying to fight for what he feels is right and for the respect he feels he deserves.
As far as using "the race card," Woodley says that’s far from what he’s doing, as he is successful enough as a UFC champion, an actor, mentor, and an analyst to bring attention to the issue without using his race as a reason for someone keeping him down since he’s overcome the obstacles.
Tyron will next step foot inside the Octagon for a rematch against the aforementioned Thompson in the headlining bout of UFC 209 on March 4, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Whether or not all of the extra attention and perhaps some of the backlash of his recent comments prove to be any distraction, remains to be seen.
That said, Woodley did reveal that the UFC Public Relations office has contacted him to discuss what he sees as unfair treatment and promotion as a fighter to see how they can remedy the issue together.