Former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley hopes his peers will one day understand they hold the power in combat sports.

As he prepares to take on Jake Paul in their boxing rematch on Saturday on Showtime, Woodley spoke about the importance of fighters understanding their worth rather than allowing the promotions to dictate their careers.

“Fighters in general, they should start saying, ‘I’m the f*cking fighter, f*ck y’all.,’” Woodley said during a media scrum after Thursday’s pre-fight news conference. “Y’all can’t make the show without us. Y’all can’t put on a show without us. We appreciate the opportunity, we appreciate the platform, we appreciate the pay to go out there and show people our skills, but it’s still us showing our skills.

“Sometimes we fall in love with the promotion and the promoter and the people that are putting on the show too much and we forget who we are. We forget how important the fighters – without fighters, it’s no f*cking show.”

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Woodley joined the UFC in 2013, but decided to walk away from the promotion after fighting out his contract in 2021. The former champ reached the pinnacle of the welterweight division and defended the title four times. During his run, he notably butted heads with UFC president Dana White and some of his peers.

However, he feels it’s possible for fighters to still come together with everyone’s best interests in mind, while still keeping the same intensity necessary to create incredible fights inside the cage or ring.

“When I was at the top, nobody was really f*ckin’ with the way I was moving because I didn’t budge, I didn’t kiss pinky rings, and I did what I thought (was right) and I did what I believed,” Woodley explained. “Do I feel like I’m gonna kumbaya with my opps, the people that was talking sh*t about me, the people that was trained by a promotion to sit on a press conference and bash me? No, it’s not going to happen.

“There’s no unity. You got to have a unity for a union. So, once that fighters recognize that, yeah. I can want to fight you. Did I want to fight Nick and Nate Diaz, and Bisping, and GSP, and Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler? Absolutely, yes. But it’s because I respected them. I was really a fan of them. I really thought they were the best and I wanted to prove myself I was the best.”

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There have been a number of union efforts over the years, including a group that included former two-division UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. Former UFC women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith asked the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant about the importance of unions at the UFC Athlete Retreat in 2017.

Some fighters understand there are changes that need to be made, but Woodley feels there are currently too many that are not willing to stand up for substantial change.

“Let’s rally up and let’s do that,” Woodley said. “Until it happens, all is gonna happen is me go out there and say what I say, mean what I say, and everybody else can go in the corner and be quiet. Then they’re gonna throw the black flag on me. I’m out for my bread, my family, and that’s where the union (is) – I’m unionizing my family so my grandkids’ grandkids don’t have to work a day in their life.”

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