When Tyron Woodley got the call that he was joining the cast for Cobra Kai season 5, it was a dream come true.
The former UFC welterweight champion, who had been acting in numerous high-profile projects while still active in his fight career, actually got involved in martial arts largely thanks to the inspiration he received watching The Karate Kid when he was growing up. To end up landing a role in the hugely popular follow up TV series on Netflix felt like Woodley was coming full circle with his career.
“The Karate Kid was the reason why I started martial arts in general,” Woodley told The Fighter vs. The Writer. “Watching Daniel-son and watching Johnny and watching the whole thing, it’s a classic film, and I suggest anyone that hasn’t seen that one — not the one with Jaden Smith, that’s a smash as well — but the original, original Karate Kid, it’s still a movie right now I feel like you play it no matter how old or how young, you’ll still be able to appreciate the movie.
“Just being able to start martial arts based upon that film and then what I did in martial arts landing me a role in Cobra Kai, and then I get to work side-by-side with these people I looked up to for so long.”
In the show, Woodley plays Sensei Odell — a trainer that gets hired to work at the Cobra Kai dojos where he ends up engaging in several big action scenes throughout the season, including a pivotal moment in the finale episode.
The role meant so much to Woodley that he actually got a Cobra Kai tattoo on his arm to celebrate the opportunity after acting alongside boyhood heroes like Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, who served as lead roles in Karate Kid before joining the long-running series.
“It’s like the No. 1 [show] on Netflix every time it comes out, so to be able to be on a franchise like that with a pretty strong role in the actual entire season, it was a pretty big deal for me,” Woodley said. “I’m going side-by-side with Johnny and Daniel, so it’s a real thing. My character has a strong presence.”
What Woodley didn’t expect to happen while he was filming the role of a lifetime was to receive a call about a fight he had been seeking in the months leading up to Cobra Kai starting production.
While his focus had shifted from fighting to acting, the now 40-year-old veteran was still staying in shape and working out on set when Jake Paul’s business partner reached out with an opportunity.
“I was on the set of Cobra Kai and I got a call from Nakisa [Bidarian], Jake Paul’s manager saying, ‘Hey, all these people are wondering if we paid you to throw the fight, I think you should come out and talk about it,’” Woodley revealed. “I was like s***, I’m not talking about anything because if they’re talking about me, they’re talking. I don’t have to confront [anybody]. Some people think I’m retired, some people think I threw the fight, some people think I was upset — as long as people are thinking some s*** about you, you’re in the clear. When they stop talking about you and they stop thinking about you, that’s when you’ve got to go and do something that you think is going to draw attention, which, I don’t do things for clout.
“So he hit me about that and I said, ‘I’m going to be real with you, Nakisa, I’m probably not going to do it cause that’s not really what I’m on right now. I don’t really got to defend myself. You guys should maybe not even try to defend yourself either.’ But I said, ‘Let me sleep on it. If I wake up and I’ve got a change of heart, I’ll let you know.’ Then he kind of threw in a little plug about, ‘Tommy Fury, they’re giving us heartaches about getting over here to the States.’ Well, you already know my number. He shouldn’t be fighting Tommy anyway. So let me know.”
Woodley had been chasing a rematch with Paul ever since their first fight ended in a split decision, but the YouTube celebrity turned boxer had shifted gears for a matchup against Tommy Fury instead.
When it was suddenly confirmed that Fury would no longer be able to compete, Woodley says Paul’s team reached out to him again — this time with an offer for the rematch, although the fight would take place on just two weeks’ notice.
“The next day [Nakisa] hit me up, ‘So hypothetically, what if.’ I said, ‘We’re not in hypotheticals, motherf*****. You need me,’” Woodley said. “‘You’re in Atlanta, I’m in Atlanta filming Cobra Kai. I’m off on this day, let’s grab some food.’
“We grab some food. I said yes immediately. I had two weeks to get ready and I was filming 14-hour days.”
According to Woodley, his shooting schedule for Cobra Kai was not only intense due to the physical nature of his role, but the days and nights spent filming were incredibly long.
“When I wrap up on set of Cobra Kai, I was training at 3:00 in the morning for the Jake Paul fight,” Woodley said. “Then get up, film all day again and then they let my coach come on set so we could train in between if I didn’t have a scene.
“Then they altered the choreography. I was supposed to do a couple more stunts. They changed the choreography and had another person do a couple more beats so that I could leave on time and wrap to be done so I could actually go and train.”
As production continued, Woodley actually finished shooting one particularly grueling episode just hours before he was scheduled to fly out to Tampa to kick off fight week for his rematch with Paul.
“We didn’t wrap and my part is a very significant part to the episode,” Woodley said. “The whole episode was kind of climaxing to that point and I had to do it. I committed to that so I can’t pull out. So on Thursday at 2 a.m. and they still haven’t filmed my part but I committed to the film. I’ve got to continue to film. Friday, I was supposed to be in Tampa. I stayed in Atlanta, Friday, I flew my entire family out so they could see me off. I don’t fight without seeing my family. So I flew everybody to Atlanta, they got on the set of Cobra Kai, my oldest son has a part in there, then they came out there and my coaches stayed, my security stayed.
“I trained Saturday, Sunday. Monday I wrapped up, I finished what they needed me to do. I hopped right on the plane and I went to Tampa right from there.”
It was a crazy turn of events for Woodley as he transitioned from choreographed fight scenes with professional actors and stuntmen to a real fight against Paul just days later.
“I flew from the set of Cobra Kai directly to Tampa. I didn’t go home,” Woodley said. “I couldn’t go see my kids. I don’t give a f***, I’m always seeing my kids before I fight. That’s who I’m fighting for. I need to see their little faces before I get on that plane so when it gets hard in there, I can f*** somebody up. I flew them all to Atlanta. Hung out with them and then I left the set of Cobra Kai and I flew out either Monday or Tuesday, directly to Tampa and we was in fight week.
“I went from kicking, punching, chopping, and blocking to right in this dude’s face talking s*** in the press conference with no break in between.”
If any of this sounds like Woodley is making excuses for the result in the fight where he suffered a knockout loss to Paul, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, Woodley was absolutely confident that he would be able to outwork and punish Paul in the rematch, which is exactly what he felt was unfolding until he got caught with a devastating punch that ended his night in the sixth round.
In that regard, Woodley gives all the credit to Paul for catching him during a momentary lapse in judgment with his defensive stance.
“I said I will be in better shape than him,” Woodley said. “He will be the one that’s looking tired. Go back and watch the fight. I was winning the fight. I was bullying him. I was walking him down. He looked to be tired.
“He threw a punch at the same time I dropped my hands. I never, ever let myself make that mistake, I [just] left my hand down. That’s all that was.”