Soundtrack To My Life: UFC’s Tyron Woodley
Ahead of his title match against Demian Maia at UFC 214 on Saturday (July 29), welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley, shares the songs that soundtracked his wins, losses and everything in between. He starts with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, a nod to the ‘tape he used to sneak and listen to as a child of 13 in his family’s household in Ferguson, Mo., then offers some gospel rap for the spiritual strength he sought before his first UFC match, a little Beyonce for his marriage and a double dose of Kendrick Lamar, who he deems “the greatest rapper of all time.”
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You grew up in Ferguson, Missouri and you were the 11th of 13th children. What do you remember music-wise playing in your household?
Growing up in a household with 13 people and being the 11th one, there’s so many different types of music, so many different age gaps. My dad was a pastor so I remember sneaking Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s tape [Creepin on Ah Come Up]. I dubbed it over a different tape, labeled it something different and put the little tissue paper on the top so you could press record ‘cause I would’ve got my butt completely tore up [if my dad found out]. But I remember that album came out, it was so hard. All my friends were listening to it and I got busted listening to it. Needless to say, the belt went to my behind.
I liked the original debut song “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.” We had never really heard four or five rappers altogether rap that fast with clarity and about real stuff that people can relate to so “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” is probably one of my favorite songs.
What’s a song that kept you motivated while at the University of Missouri?
I used to walk out to Nelly’s “#1.” I remember coming out of that tunnel with the lights on me, blasting my music. Ninety-five, ninety-six percent of all the matches I wrestled at Missouri, I won. I didn’t care who you was, what you were ranked, if you were coming to wrestle me at my home turf, I was going to find a way to win.
What song do you remember from the time you embarked on your MMA career?
That’s a hard one. When I started fighting, it was around 2005, I graduated college, I was coaching. At that time, I want to say Lil Wayne was probably the dopest rapper out at that time. We remember him from “wobblety wobbly drop drop it like it’s hot.” He was a young rapper at the time and all of a sudden, just broke through. He went into [being] one of the best lyricists of all time. I remember Tha Carter album and the song “Go DJ.” I was going out a lot then ‘cause I just got out of college so in the club. It was definitely bumpin’ all the time.
What song would you say soundtracks the first fight you ever had in the UFC?
The first fight I ever had in the UFC, I came out to a gospel rap artist named Flame and also a buddy of mine, Thi’sl. They had a song called “Surrender.” I was undefeated, I was fighting for a word title. I thought I was invincible. I thought I was never going to lose in a sport and I had to redeem myself so my first fight in the UFC, I was actually coming off a loss. So I went out there, basically surrendering myself spiritually to my coaches, the vision, to being a great in this sport and I went out there and took this dude’s [Jay Hieron] head off in 36 seconds. I made the world know who I was.
What was the first song you listened to after your first major loss?
The first song I listened to after my first major loss was probably a lot of silence because at that point, I was just kinda depressed, injured, had a huge gaping cut ['cause] I got elbowed so badly. You see my lip just hanging out. So I just wasn’t listening to any music. I wasn’t really communicating with anybody. I just kind of crawled up in a ball and I went out and did a movie, Olympus Has Fallen. It was the first film I ever did in 2012. When I came back from doing that film, I was 205 pounds, looking all retired and defeated and I just had to get myself together. So then I went into some spiritual music [from] a recording artist named Meaghan Williams. She had a song called “Your Latter” and it was just talking about your latter is gonna be greater than your past. The things that are for you in your future are gonna surpass all the shortcomings and things you had leading up to this point so I just listened to that and it really motivated me.
What was the first song you heard after you booked your first movie gig?
It’s hard because there was a lot of crazy music out at that time in 2012. That’s when we started incorporating what I would call the “junk rap,” the rap that don’t necessarily have to blow your mind lyrically but it makes you feel good.
I remember when I shot [Olympus Has Fallen], it was hot in Louisiana in the summertime. I felt like I was a mouse in a wool sock, just sweating. The song [G.O.O.D. Music’s] “Mercy” came out and we were in a rinky-dink club. We only had one option to go to so we went there, and that was a hot song at that point.
You also landed a role in Straight Outta Compton. What was your favorite N.W.A song?
My favorite N.W.A song was “Straight Outta Compton” because it made you feel like it was an anthem. When I heard the song “Straight Outta Compton,” I felt like you needed to kick a door in first and then everybody would just mob in there with their flat-brimmed hats, looking all beast mode.
Three years ago, Ferguson became the center of news because of Mike Brown being fatally shot by police. What’s an uplifting song you would dedicate to your city?
Definitely a song I listen to when I want to uplift the city is “Glory” from the movie Selma from Common and John Legend. They have a couple of excerpts where they’re talking about Ferguson. It’s just something positive. You can have all these mantras like “Hands up, don’t shoot” that get the attention but I think that [song] was giving the inspiration to have a plan. Don’t let this go in vein. Don’t let this very, terrible tragic situation that happened go to waste for us to rise up together, to be a stronger community, to address ourselves, look in the mirror and fix what we can do better, and to also hold people accountable.
You’re also a married man. What song reminds you of your relationship with your wife?
When I got married, our favorite song was “Halo” by Beyonce. At that point, God kind of showed me who I was supposed to be married to. I was deeply in love. When I heard ["Halo"], the song just really resonated with me and made me feel some type of way so therefore, I bumped it.
What was a song that played in your head when you won the welterweight championship?
When I won a world title, I was just in that mindset that I’ll always have to prove to everybody over and over again. Everybody’s always doubted me and it just so happened that the “Bad and Boujee” song [by Migos] came out and I just felt like that was my mantra. It just made me feel hype, like a boss, like I was on top of the world so after I knocked [Robbie Lawler] out in record-breaking time, it was like “Rain drop, drop top.” [Laughs]
What’s a song that makes you feel like a rapper?
Songs that make me feel like a rapper are [from] rappers that I can relate to. I look at Kendrick Lamar. In my opinion, he’s the greatest rapper of all time. I know a lot of people are gonna yell at me [because of] that but I would argue and say Tupac was before. But just what [Kendrick] brings to the table—his creativity, his word uses, how he can switch his style up at any point in the song. He gives us like 32, 40-something bars on every song, it’s almost like you get a quadruple CD if you really break it down.
I can relate to him because, I don’t know him, but I feel as if he was in Compton and had the opportunity to do the drug-dealing, the gang-banging, and he chose a different route. He uses his pain and environment to really be creative. I feel like I did the same thing growing up in Ferguson. I did some gang-banging myself and just being exposed to so many different glares and snares of the inner-city. I chose wrestling, academics and me as well as [Kendrick], we can go right back to our neighborhood and still get respect, almost double respect because if it wasn’t the cool thing to do, I still made it out. Now, I’m a successful businessman and my kids never have to experience what I did so definitely a guy like Kendrick Lamar would make me feel like at a certain point, I’m a rapper but hey! Don’t say I’m comparing myself to him!
What are your favorite Kendrick Lamar songs?
It’s hard. I feel like I’m a complete fanboy and the album DAMN. is a complete classic. I like “Pride” and “Element.” “Element” makes me feel like when I walk out to the cage, it’s a part where he says “I’m willin’ to die for this shit” and sometimes, when I walk into the cage, I’m really willin’ to die in there. A lotta people say that but when you say it and hear it, and there’s chills in your body, you feel it.
“DNA” is a dope song. I’m actually considering walking out to my next fight to “DNA” just because I was built for this sport. All the traces in my DNA, where I grew up, how I was brought up, gang-banging, wrestling, all the things I had to endure, it’s in my DNA and it’s in kids’ DNA so that song would probably be another one.
What is your hype-up song for UFC 214 for your fight versus Demian Maia?
I would have to go with “Element” [by Kendrick Lamar] because I feel like this fight, I shouldn’t be out there playing around. I shouldn’t make this fight go the distance. I really should go out there and really try to wreck this guy. Certain songs really get you to that point. I just wanna go out there and give out pure violence from the beginning to the end of the fight and go back there and watch the main event.
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