(Tyron Woodley and Rudy Bears. Courtesy of Esther Lin/STRIKEFORCE)
“We used to play this game called ‘Dark,’” Tyron Woodley said. “We were always playing when my parents were gone. We would completely make our basement pitch black, cover up all the windows. You couldn’t see anybody standing in front of you. We used to just hide, and if we found you, we’d just beat you up in the dark. It sounds silly, but—going outside playing games and running—sometimes you just get bored…So you’d be in the laundry room hiding behind a freakin’ hot water heater, sneaking up on people, listening.”
Woodley, now a 4-0 Strikeforce welterweight, could more than hold his own were he to play “Dark” today, but then, as the 11th of 13 children, the odds of being found and pummeled by an older and likely bigger sibling were not in Woodley’s favor. After struggling to overcome the lure of a life of crime on the streets of St. Louis and multiple suspensions from school, “Dark,” in retrospect, is actually a bright spot in Woodley’s life, just one of many.
“There were lots of good times—definitely more good times than bad times,” Woodley said. “When you’re thinking about bad times, you think about economics, you think about struggling financially, you think about the quality of life. That makes you start thinking about all the love, all the family support, all the unconditional love.”
Woodley’s mother made the good times possible. She provided for her family mostly on her own, working two, sometimes three, jobs to feed and clothe her children. In between shifts, she found the time to make her children’s beds or to watch Woodley wrestle, sometimes driving across the country do so.
“I know she was crying. I know she was working herself to the ground,” Woodley said of his mother. “She always provided for us, and we had things to eat. There were things she wanted to do in life, a lot of things she could have been doing, but she always put herself on hold… She showed a lot of poise and a lot of patience. She really sacrificed for her family.”
With the support of his mother and his family, Woodley graduated high school with honors and went to University of Missouri where he became a two-time All-American wrestler. Woodley had his first MMA bout after just three weeks of training, which came as a surprise to his family. It really shouldn’t have, considering that they used to fight for fun in the basement.
“I took a fight, and I didn’t tell anybody about it, and I was like, ‘Yeah… I’m fighting tonight.’ [My family was] like, ‘What?’” Woodley said. “Everybody was like, ‘What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Why are you doing this?’ My brother called me and was like, ‘So… is everything all right?’”
Woodley’s mother was concerned as well, but she quickly resumed her customary support:
“[My mom will] call me and be like, ‘What are you doing? You should be training. When are you fighting again?’”
Woodley is fighting again on Nov. 20 against Rudy Bears in the main event of a Strikeforce Challengers card set to air on Showtime. If you’re in the audience, watch what you say, because Woodley’s mother and 12 siblings are likely to be in the crowd when the lights go down, and they’re good at fighting in the dark.