In his time as a top UFC contender – and now as a champion – Tyron Woodley has sparked something of a conversation in the UFC. His comments about racial identity and the potential for pay inequality have been cause for a lot of backlash, and some heated debate.
Now it seems that UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping is lending his voice to the conversation. On the latest episode of his Believe You Me podcast, the ‘Count’ responded to some of Woodley’s statements and positions, while looking to provide his own context and view of racism in combat sports.
“He was getting booed in his last fight and he wasn't happy about that,” Bisping said, referring to Woodley’s most recent spat with Dana White. “But, he's also getting put on good fight cards. I mean, he fought on the same card as Conor, UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden, then he fought on the same card as Jon Jones. The guy's been on mega mega fight cards, and the bigger fight cards you're on, for those that don't realize, you get a piece of the cake if you're the champion. And therefor, you're making money. And he's been on a lot of these cards as well. So, he really hasn't got anything to feel sorry for himself.
“I don't know, I don't know. Tyron's a good guy. But it is hard, though, if you put yourself in his position, when you go out there and you're fighting and you give up your life, and you go out there. And the fight against Demian Maia was, it was a very very tactical fight. And he stopped 21, 22 takedowns, which isn't easy to do, and the crowd were booing like crazy. And on top of that, Dana did kind of take a dump on him a little bit, publicly. So, I guess he has got a right to defend himself.”
And While Bisping was willing to lend some support to Woodley’s feelings on the fallout of UFC 214, he had a lot less sympathy for Woodley’s position that some of the backlash he faces is tied to his race.
“Did he call the UFC racist?” Bisping asked, in response to his co-host, Luis J. Gomez, misquoting Woodley. “Did he actually go out there and say the UFC? Did he say he feels that racism exists within the UFC? Because that's a pretty strong quote. And I'll be honest, I can't see that. I mean, of course I'm not black, I'm white, I'm English. Although, these days, white people seem to be, we seem to be suffering a bit of racism. It's almost a sin to be white these days, because we're over-privileged, just because the color of our skin. But, yeah, I've never experienced racism, so I can't empathize with him and I can't put myself in his shoes. But, I will go out on a limb and say, 'Come on.' The UFC want to put on the biggest fights and the best fights and I don't really think color of skin comes into it, but maybe I'm wrong.”
Eventually, the correct quote was found, in which Woodley said, “...it’s not the promotion, don’t get me incorrect, I’m not saying it’s the UFC and that there’s such a huge conspiracy – but the mindset of our fans. We indirectly make preconceived notions about certain fighters.”
But, even if Woodley’s comments weren’t aimed at the UFC, Bisping doesn’t seem to feel they hold up. Especially Woodley’s observation that a great pound-for-pound talent like Demetrious Johnson doesn’t make as much as some non-title holders.
“That's what it sounds like,” Bisping responded when his co-host posited that Woodley was targeting fans rather than the promotion. “He says, 'I'm not saying they're racist,' but then he kinda says that they are. But, c'mon, people cheer for Jon Jones. I mean, listen, he's talking about Demetrious Johnson not getting paid more, not being at the top of the structure. We all know that this is – of course it's a sport, it's a beautiful sport, it's a violent sport, it's a tough sport, but there's also a huge entertainment factor and it's supply and demand. If you're in demand, then the supply of cash will be there.
“Demetrious Johnson, as I said, he's fighting this weekend, and he can make history. And Demetrious is an amazing fighter, incredible fighter. Is he a massive PPV draw though? No, and that's not because... And again, I'm not black, so I can't put myself in that position, but I'm pretty confident in saying it's not because he's black. It's because he's a black man and it's racism, it's just because he fights at 125 lbs and the lighter weight classes don't really bring the excitement that, for example, the heavyweight does. We all know, there was a great heavyweight contest at the weekend, Stefan Struve taking on Volkov, we'll get into that later. The heavyweight title fights or heavyweight fights captures the imagination. You want to see two big dudes throw down. For the lighter guys, 125 lbs, technical brilliance, very very fast, but you don't see the knockouts.
“And of course, he's been steamrolling his competition,” Bisping continued. “So, he hasn't been involved in these epic fights and he hasn't had somebody to bring out the best of him, to challenge him, to have these rivalries. Like a Jon Jones vs. a DC, like a Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz back in the day. Hasn't had that person, like a Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw. He hasn't had that, he hasn't had that nemesis. And he's just steamrolled his competition, as I said. So, I think that's partly why he doesn't, you know?
“He's headlined PPVs before and he didn't draw. That's the fact of the matter, simple as that. if you're not drawing people in, you don't earn the cash. And I've had this argument with Dana White myself. Well, me and many other people, I've said, ‘Hold on a minute, look at Nate Diaz and Conor, look at what they got paid for that. I want that.’ And they're like, ‘Well, you ain't pullin' in the numbers that Conor and Nate Diaz do." And it kind of stops you in your tracks there, because it's a fucking fair point. And that's why Demetrious isn't pulling in that kind of money, because he's not pulling in the numbers. Not because of the color of his skin. I might be wrong, but I feel very confident in saying that.”
Bisping and his co-host went on to do their own breakdown of racial identities of notable UFC talent and champions, where the Englishman picked out Max Holloway as well as Nick & Nate Diaz as essentially being white fighters.
“We're going off on a tangent here, but still, I'm saying Nick and Nate Diaz are white. And I'm just saying it's a very very bad comparison to use, Luis. Very bad.”
“What is Max Holloway? Okay, here we go, we're just like Nick and Nate Diaz now. What is he light-black skin?”
“He's got a suntan!” Bisping joked, speaking of Holloway. “You know what I mean? He's got a suntan. So, we're all racist against Hawaiians now.”
The champion then recounted the history of famous black athletes in boxing as further proof of a lack of racial bias among combat sports fans, and wrapped the whole segment up with a bit of self reflection, along with the hope that his comments won’t spark any offense.
“I just want to address one thing before we move on into that,” Bisping said as his co-host moved toward a new topic of discussion, “because I was just sitting here a second ago saying, ‘Racism doesn't exist in this sport and yada yada yada.’ Going on and on and talking about, ‘Well look at all these successful black boxers,’ etc. etc. I just want to make it clear, because I might be borderline offending some people. Because they might say, ‘Hey listen look at this guy, he's a white guy.’
“You know, we were talking about Tyron Woodley before, they might say, 'Look at this guy, entitled white guy living in Orange County, saying, 'Racism doesn't exist.' How on earth does he have a clue? How is he ever going to consider anything like that, because he could never ever come close to experiencing it?' And you're absolutely right. So, if I'm wrong, then I apologize. I'm just saying, in my experience, I haven't seen any evidence of it. In fact, I've seen the opposite. I've seen black athletes being pushed. I mean, Rampage Jackson, when he came over from Pride, got a huge push from the UFC and the list goes on. Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier as we just said. But, if I did offend anybody I apologize. But there really wasn't any need for offense. But, you know how some people like to twist shit and say whatever.”