is a man with a double life.
By day, he's an anonymous full-time student chasing a Master's degree in public administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. By night, he is an undefeated rising star in the Strikeforce welterweight division.
It's a scenario that inevitably lends itself to the occasional distraction.
"Sometimes I'm in class thinking, 'I'm ready to go. I've been here for three hours and I need to get out of here,'" he said. "My classmates are debating public policy or budget reform or insurance issues, and all I'm thinking about is punching somebody in the face."
Yet the 28-year-old Woodley is equally passionate about both of his goals with the same hope of inspiring the younger generation.
A soft-spoken yet articulate former two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, Woodley has opened eyes in the MMA world with a perfect 8-0 start to his pro career. On Oct. 9, he'll take on Andre Galvao in one of the main card bouts underneath the Nick Diaz vs. KJ Noons main event. The Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Noons event airs live on Showtime.
For Woodley, the opportunity presents the big organizational break he's been waiting for.
In late 2008, Woodley tried out for season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, but was not among the four U.S. welterweights picked for the show. Just before that, he was in the process of signing a deal with EliteXC when that company abruptly shut its doors for good.
Now firmly entrenched in Strikeforce, Woodley hopes to make the jump from prospect to contender on the world scene.
"There's a scripture that says, 'The testing of your faith brings you salvation,'" he said. "I'm constantly waiting. I can't wait no more."
He can't be blamed for that impatience. It's been a challenging road for the Missouri native, who grew up just a few miles from St. Louis in a household of 13 children -- six biological siblings, six adopted.
"It was a full house with a lot of love, a lot of support and a lot of values," he said.
Asked if any of his brothers or sisters are involved in the fight game, Woodley chuckles.
"I'm the only one," he said. "But I was probably the least likely to get at you or fight you. It's kind of funny I'm the one who ended up fighting."
While Woodley admits he had his own "reign of terror" growing up, he quickly found his path, excelling in school as well as sports. While football was his first love, he quickly stood out in wrestling. As a senior, he finished 48-0, captured the Missouri state championship, won his school's scholar-athlete award and was named an Academic All-American.
In college, he compiled a record of 110-38, was a three-time team captain, and became the first University of Missouri wrestler to win a conference championship.
His move into MMA, however, was not exactly the end game of a master plan. After graduating in 2005, he wandered upon a TV show that led to the idea.
"I had just watched The Ultimate Fighter, I think it was the second season, and I knew some of the guys, Rashad Evans and Mike Whitehead, because he was a teammate. I was thinking, 'Hmmmm, I know all these wrestlers like Josh Koscheck and these guys. Maybe I should get into this,'" he said.
Shortly thereafter, Woodley passed by a local gym that was to going to host an MMA event in two weeks and asked to be put on the card. They accepted his request and Woodley won the fight in about 30 seconds.
"I said, 'I've gotta do that again,'" he said. "I was trying to see if I wanted to keep doing it. It was an experiment that turned into a career."
In that 30 seconds, Woodley quickly discovered he had an aptitude for fighting. His powerful wrestling translated exceptionally into MMA, and he worked hard at developing his striking and jiu-jitsu games.
After false starts with EliteXC and the UFC, by Sept. 2009, he made the Showtime broadcast of a Challengers Series card, submitting Zach Light. In each of his next two fights, he was the main event on Challengers Series shows, defeating Rudy Bears and Nathan Coy, respectively.
The Coy, fight, however, proved a little closer than some thought, as Woodley escaped with a narrow split-decision. Ever the student, Woodley saw it as a learning experience, and felt his performance might have been hurt by distractions outside the cage prior to the fight. Though he'd previously managed himself, Woodley signed on with Xtreme Couture Management, taking one major responsibility off his full plate.
He'll need total focus against Galvao, a highly decorated jiu-jitsu black belt who's captured multiple medals in major competitions. In MMA, Galvao's gone 5-1, losing only a close split decision to Jason High in July 2009. In Strikeforce, he's won both of his bouts, defeating Luke Stewart by decision while taking out Jorge Patino via strikes.
"I think we're on the same street," Woodley said. "One of us has got to move and take a forward step towards that belt. He's nothing to be taken lightly. I'm going to try to get positions where's limited in what he can do. And where I can put on full display what I can."
Noting that current welterweight title challenger KJ Noons is "quite frankly a lightweight" Woodley believes a dominant win will put him in the hunt for a title opportunity.
"Guys like me and the other 170-pounders working their way up, it kind of rubbed you the wrong way, but I know he's got some unfinished business," he said. "But I think I'm in the mix, I'm in the picture."
The thinking man has a plan. He's charted his course.
"It really doesn't matter how I win as long as I do it in dominant fashion. As long as I open up and let it all hang out," he said. "If it doesn't stop early, I think I'll win every round. I think I'll do well and win in dominant fashion."