On Saturday, Tyron Woodley steps into the UFC Octagon for one of the biggest fights of his career. The former UFC welterweight champion has lost back-to-back fights for the first time as a professional, and now he takes on Colby Covington, with whom tensions have been building for years.
As the spotlight shines bright on Woodley ahead of this bout, the Ferguson, Missouri, native is also acutely aware of the platform he has in this moment. He hopes that by sharing his perspective and personal experiences regarding racial profiling, Black Lives Matter and the importance of inclusion that he can make a positive impact.
Woodley sat down with ESPN's Alisa Harrison ahead of his fight with Covington.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.
On the efforts of athletes and the importance of representation and inclusion
I love what the NBA has done. You see Black Lives Matter on jerseys. You see it on the floor. You see guys represent for the late and great Chadwick [Boseman]. You see people are speaking out, and that's what it's going to take. We can't just sit back. When these greats die, don't let their death go in vain. Carry the torch. Muhammad Ali stood for what he stood for. He lost millions of dollars in his prime because of what he stood for. I think LeBron James is the same way.
Some people don't like his abrasiveness, but he means what he's saying. He's done a lot for the culture. And when I say the culture, don't get that confused with Black people. The culture is anything that, whether it's fashion, whether it's music, whether it's art, whether it's whatever, it's a culture that's revolved around these things.
And it's not all African American. It's white. It's everything. Demi Lovato was doing things for the culture. She gave her platform away to these young Black Lives Matter CEOs and things like that to use her platform as a voice. She's a part of the culture. So I'm always going to do that. I love what they're doing.
On racial profiling and police brutality as a lived experience
I've come from that environment, and things are different. Police brutality is real. Racial profiling is real. Stereotyping is real. I've seen it. I've seen my friends beaten by police. I've been harassed, and I've been locked up for no reason. I've been pulled over -- because "driving while Black." I've had that, so don't act like it don't exist. Don't be insensitive. Just because you don't participate in it, just because you haven't been ingrained with racism through your parents, your ignorance of the fact that it exists is almost as equal as participating in it.
So let's all calm the hell down a little bit. Let's listen to somebody else, and let's say, "You know what, how much is it going to really hurt me to support this?" It's not. All you're doing is saying, OK, everybody should be treated the same.
As an athlete with a platform, I feel like you have a huge social responsibility because most athletes, especially African American athletes, they come from humble beginnings and those same areas and those same neighborhoods. There are kids there that don't believe they can make it out. And they need to know that not only is it possible, if they work hard they can do that.
On his experiences in Ferguson and where the world stands now
This is probably the most momentum we've had. The momentum should be utilized to make a change, an impactful change -- short-term, long-term. Just a comfort, make people feel like we are one. We got your back. We understand. But what I do like about this this time around is that you have a lot of non-African American people speaking out because it's right.
And I think that one thing we have to do is we have to embrace that. We have to embrace the fact that people are saying, "You know what? I'm tired of watching this. I'm tired of seeing this. This is not right. I'm not African American, but I'm a human. I'm a human being. I got blood in my veins and I want this to change around."
Michael Brown, when he got shot and killed ... I lived on that street. That's my street. I didn't just live in the proximity. I walked to that QuikTrip that was blown up and freaking looted. Where he got shot, I used to date a girl that lived in that building. I know the area very well.
I was in my car about to drive down there to see what the hell was going on. I'm like, "All right, this is my neighborhood. What's going on?" And it just hurt.
It hurts now, to see our country to the point that it's at. It hurts to see that this is what we have to come to, to even get a voice or even get the opportunity or momentum to make effective change.
It hurts that people are really going to sit back, either knowing that this goes on and exists, or not have the knowledge of it -- just ignorant to the fact that it does.
On using a platform to make positive change
I would like to see a little bit more education done. I would like to see a little bit more involvement in inner cities.
If you have the time and energy, go give your time and energy. If you have the resources and the connections, connect those dots. Use what you have to make a difference. Nobody has everything, but everybody has something.
I think, right now, the thing that I want to see, it's a lot of beautiful minds, a lot of great minds in politics, in sports, in business, in agriculture, and anything that you can think of. I think, collectively, we need to all come together, and we need to know the reforms. We need to know the progress. We need to know the steps. We need to know the strategy. We need to be able to actually make them realistic.
A lot of people want me to just punch, but I love music. I love art form. I love production. We're a visual society. We don't want to just listen to radio anymore. We don't want to just read a book anymore. We want to see it, bring it to light, bring it to living color. Most music that's consumed now, you have to have a visual with it.
I feel like showing some of that art and helping kids stimulate their brain, stimulate the intellect and make them think more analytically, make them think overall instead of just being in this bubble. If we do that, I think these minds will start creating differently in our culture, creating differently in our society. And they'll have less idle time.
A lot of the crime happens from boredom, if you really want to be honest. Let's give them something creative and productive to do, that they can start locating their God-given gifts. I think if you do that, man, that's a huge change right there.
On how he wants to work toward change through the UFC
That's the part I want to be involved with. Black Lives Matter. My tights say Black Lives Matter. I wish the UFC would put some of that on our gear. I contacted [UFC director of public relations] Dave Lockett. I said, "I want my fight kit to have Black Lives Matter. People know who I am. You don't need my name on my s---."
I wish the UFC would do a little bit more. I'm really not happy with that. I had a long conversation with Dana White about it when the riots happened at Ferguson. I wanted them to utilize me to show a positive spin.
Let's go give back. Let's go do seminars with these kids. Mixed martial arts is an affordable martial art that they can do. Start doing seminars, bring some of these guests in and have them talk to the kids about life and what martial arts and the discipline has given to them.
If you show someone a different way, you give them a different opportunity.