Montana's Woodard looks to build on Bellator breakthrough (cont.)
At age 19, Woodard voluntarily accompanied his best friend to an apartment, where his friend planned to physically confront another guy and his basketball teammates over an earlier dispute. Woodard had been drinking that day and thought nothing of "backing up" his friend, though when they got there, the guy was alone. Woodard said he was talking to the guy's girlfriend when his two friends jumped the guy.
"It happened in a matter of seconds. I didn't see it with my own eyes," Woodard recalled. "The kid was laying on the floor against the kitchen sink with blood coming out of his mouth. I think he had to have his jaw wired shut."
When an ambulance was called, Woodard and his friends fled the scene. Woodard said he hadn't thrown a single punch himself, but he hadn't done anything to stop the beating either.
"I didn't treat that guy as a human being, just like the kids who'd beat me up when I was a kid," Woodard said. "I'd turned into what they'd been."
Woodard was convicted of felony burglary, but it didn't deter him. When he was arrested for additional altercations, Woodard's probation was revoked and he was sent to the Missoula County Jail, which housed about 400 inmates. Woodard was behind bars for the next 13 months.
"I didn't have any problems in jail," said Woodard, who spent a lot of his time reading, watching television and thinking about where it had gone wrong. "I didn't have to join any gangs or get tattooed up. I didn't get bothered with. That's what I like about Montana. It's a great state with good people here -- even the people in jail have a common respect for each other."
Woodard was then transferred to the state's Correctional Training Center, which ran a "boot camp" out of the prison. Woodward stayed there for four months and spent another five months in an after-care program.
"I had a lot of growing up to do," Woodard said. "I was a Montana boy who made the wrong decisions at an early age. I was incarcerated for pretty much two years of my life and during that time, I realized I was meant for doing something else."
When he was finally released, Woodard vowed to never again squander the control he had over his life. However, it was a chance meeting a few months later with Adrienne Noel, a fitness model and ski patrol woman who he'd dated in high school, that gave Woodard motivation and direction.
"After we reconnected, that was the point in my life that I realized I had someone that loved me so much, who I loved so much back," Woodard said. "I wanted to be a better person for her, for myself. Today, there's nothing left in me that reverts back to that old person."
The only remnant Woodard kept of his former self was his penchant for fighting, something he'd discovered out of necessity that he now hoped to parlay into a serious career. In Missoula, Woodard met Matt Powers, a local businessman who helped fund the beginnings of what would become the Dogpound Fight Team.
At Woodard's first professional fight in 2008, Powers wanted to give him the nickname "Pretty Boy," but the fighter didn't want to take a moniker made famous by Floyd Mayweather. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Powers wrote down "Cupcake" on the announcer's form.
It was a joke, of course, but Woodard got a kick out of it.
"When my opponent got beat up by a guy named 'Cupcake,' it was pretty funny," he said. "I hope it catches on to the point where people will say that guy's a 'bad cupcake.'"
Woodard's 10-0 streak got him onto Bellator's radar in 2011. He beat Carey Vanier in his debut for the promotion that March, then suffered his first career loss to future champion Chandler a month later. The defeat convinced Woodard to venture out of Montana for his training for the first time; something he'd been hesitant to do to in the past out of his fierce loyalty for his coaches, team, and state. Woodward spent a month with Olympic wrestling medalist Matt Lindland's Team Quest in Oregon last summer and plans to return at some point to train there again.
In the meantime, Woodard's two crowd-pleasing performances were enough to earn him a slot in this season's lightweight tournament. On April 20, Woodward will face 2004 Olympic judo qualifier Rick Hawn in one of the tournament's semifinals in Cleveland, Ohio. With Friere eliminated, Hawn is widely considered the stiffest competition left in the brackets.
Again the underdog, Woodard relishes in the idea of facing Hawn next, as the tournament winner will get the opportunity to later face Chandler, the one blemish on his record.
Woodward's recently learned that his 65-year-old father will go to prison soon for drug trafficking, an unnecessary reminder that one's life can go astray at any time with just one bad decision.
But right now, there's only one direction in Woodard's life and that is forward.