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Tyron Woodley sees a double-standard for UFC champions getting what they ask for

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Tyron Woodley knocked out Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 to become to take the welterweight belt, the first thing he did was call out a couple of names. One was longtime, quasi-retired champion Georges St-Pierre, who is on the verge of a comeback. The other was Nick Diaz, a money fight against a popular fighter who hasn’t won a bout in nearly last five years.

That didn’t sit with many people the right way, given that he was expressing his druthers without having first defended the belt. It got more complicated when Woodley showed no interest in fighting Stephen Thompson, who was the rightful No. 1 contender in the division, for doubting him going into his fight with Lawler.

Well, now the "Wonderboy" Thompson-Woodley fight is official for UFC 205, and it takes place on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden. Woodley, who was in New York on a publicity tour for the event and made an in-studio appearance on The MMA Hour, said he’s heard the uproar for calling his shots and for asking for "money" fights ahead of "merit" fights. And he’s also heard the arguments that the reason he’s being criticized about it more than other champions in similar situations — such as Conor McGregor, who fought Nate Diaz twice, and Michael Bisping, who is fighting Dan Henderson at UFC 204 — is because he’s a black champion.

Asked about it, Woodley had some thoughts.

"I’m reading this book right now, and I can’t disclose which book I’m reading," he told Ariel Helwani. "But I was told by a person to read this book, and in the first two opening pages it talks about Patrick Ewing. So Patrick Ewing was in a big negotiation for a big deal, and they were negotiating, going back and forth. And he got to a point where you can see that he felt he was valued at a different value, and the person just put it out there, ‘when’s enough enough?’ Like, when’s enough money enough money. But it wasn’t that hey you don’t deserve this amount, it was in a tone that, ‘you’re an African American athlete, you’re playing professional basketball, aren’t you making enough money?

"He took it really personal, and he should have. When people bring up race, they automatically want to call it ‘race baiting.’ Or like [Angela] ‘Overkill’ Hill, she posted something like ‘the Great White Hope,’ I said, ‘you said it, not me.’ Now I’m on the feeds getting hit up about it."

Woodley pointed out the nearest example, which is Bisping’s title defense against Henderson on Oct. 8. Bisping won the middleweight title from Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 surprisingly, knocking out the AKA fighter in the first round on just a couple of week’s notice. Rather than being booked into a trilogy fight with Rockhold, who defeated Bisping in 2014 — or even against former champion Chris Weidman, or against higher-ranked contenders like Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza or Yoel Romero — Bisping expressed an interest in the Henderson fight. He wanted to avenge his most devastating loss, which came against Henderson at UFC 100 in 2009.

"Micheal Bisping’s fighting the 12th or 13th ranked guy," Woodley said. "I love Dan Henderson. He’s done a crapload for my career — he was my first sponsor with Clinch Gear. Yeah, I love Dan Henderson. I’ve trained with him. But if you look at the sport, if you look at the sport's purists, he’s not the first person to deserve a title shot. Maybe ‘Jacare’ Souza, maybe a rematch with Luke Rockhold, maybe Chris Weidman, whoever. But, this fight makes sense why? Because Bisping wanted this fight, and because this fight could draw some money.

"But if I do that, now it’s an issue. If Conor McGregor can fight Nate Diaz two times — the first time, people forget the whole reason why they fought. He was supposed to go up and fight for that belt and then potentially come up to get whooped at 170 trying to fight for that belt, but [Rafael dos Anjos] couldn’t fight. Nate was a late-minute replacement. He beat him, when many people didn’t think he was going to beat him fighting on 10 day’s notice, the trash talk, build another fight. Why is this fight even happening at 170? We forget the reason why. But that fight’s okay. It’s okay for those guys to go out there and make five million dollars for a non-title fight on record for purse…and another three million for pay-per-view.  It’s okay to talk about that money, but you’re a champion, oh we should never want that kind of money. That’s kind of funny to me."

Woodley said he never actually turned down a fight with Thompson, that he accepted the bout as soon as it was on the table. The only thing he did was angle for a big money fight with Diaz and/or St-Pierre because he’d earned the right to do so with his platform and success. He said he also viewed each of them for their legacies, too, which carry more import than Thompson.

Yet now that it’s booked, the question came around to whether or not the UFC was giving him the proper push — or, moreover, if the UFC was making enough effort to connect with the African American community, particularly in places like Woodley’s native home of Ferguson, Missouri.

"I’m not going to say it’s the UFC, it’s an untapped market and unknown market," Woodley said. "And people that go into unknown markets don’t really know if the money invested in it will come back tenfold, if it would come back to more viewers. But what better athlete to utilize and go and grab that market? Somebody who lived on the street that was rioting in in Ferguson. I didn’t live around, I don’t live near there…like, I can walk to the place that was kicked in and rioted in a three-minute, four-minute walk from my home. So why not utilize that person, who’s been in historic, iconic films like Straight Outta Compton or stunts and acting, but still own a gym, still a father, still a husband, still a FOX analyst?

"I can go and grab that market in a heartbeat. I can still go back to the roughest of roughs, and I got respect because I didn’t go into drug dealing when I had the opportunity to, or I tried to and a guy was like, ‘no, you’re doing this, you’re going to college and you’re going to be successful.’ They respect me for what I did not do for the career I did instead of."

Woodley said when he won the title against Lawler to realize a long-held dream of his, that he felt he won it for the city of St. Louis. That he stood for his city.

"Now you can have one person from Ferguson that’s successful in their eyes," he said. "I don’t think I’m successful yet because I’ve got so much left in this sport, and so much I’ve got left yet to do, but boxing has primarily grabbed the urban market. With Floyd Mayweather retiring, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to educate. You have to educate first.

"Because I’m being honest, most people that are in that market view mixed martial arts as a sport where a whole bunch of crazy white fighters are kicking the hell out of each other, with a sprinkling of a few brothers in there. That’s what they think of it as. So we have to educate them on this. One, it’s not called UFC fighting. One it’s not called boxing or wrestling or cage fighting, it’s called mixed martial arts, that’s the name of the sport. If you take boxing, kickboxing, tae kwon do, judo, karate, jiu-jitsu, wrestling — each sport divided by itself is respected, but when you blend them together sometimes people start having issues with them."