Montana's Lloyd Woodard looks to build on Bellator breakthrough
Lloyd Woodard made waves in the MMA world after winning a Bellator quarterfinal
The crowd-pleasing Montana native has managed to bloom from modest origins
After serving time for felony burglary, he vowed never to lose control of his life
While Friday nights have yet to become a prosperous destination for both The Ultimate Fighter Live and Bellator Fighting Championships on cable television, there are still small victories to be had beyond ratings numbers.
Just ask Lloyd "Cupcake" Woodard.
The Washington-born Montanan went from an unknown to full-on MMA media darling this week by submitting Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Patricky "Pitbull" Friere in a Bellator lightweight tournament quarterfinal bout in Laredo, Texas.
This has to be considered a win for Bellator, which drew 175,000 viewers for its four-fight live event on MTV2 to the 1.2 million who tuned into FX for the half-taped, single-fight reality series now in its 15th season.
It's obvious that the enthusiastic Woodward, with his Yosemite Sam-esque mustache and guns-a-blazing striking style, connected with his audience. On Monday, media members wrote and talked about Woodard more than Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz's flip-flopping rivalry featured in last week's TUF episode.
For Bellator, still nine months away from its big move to Spike TV and the significant ratings boost that should come with it, a fighter like Woodard -- who fans will care enough about to tune in and watch again -- is worth his weight in gold. It's fighters like Woodard, the small-town guy making good, who will help Bellator resonate more with a fanbase that's grown accustomed to one dominant brand.
The 27-year-old Woodard, a self-professed "mountain man" with a checkered past, wasn't expected to get past favorite Friere, who'd stormed through the promotion's previous 155-pound tourney before dropping a decision to future lightweight champion Michael Chandler in the finals last May.
Woodard admitted he had no true strategy going in other than "to scrap," but like Chandler, he kept the pressure on and answered each of the ultra-aggressive Friere's punches with his own. After a close first round, Woodard clipped the shooting Brazilian with a knee halfway through the second to gain superior positioning and the fight-ending kimura.
"Every time I got hit, I wanted to hit him back harder," Woodard said. "Right before I submitted him, he threw a really clean knee to my body and it hurt me, but I was so mad that I stayed in his face and swung back at him even harder."
Woodard made $20,000 for the quarterfinal bout, including a $10,000 win bonus, and couldn't have been more elated about it. It was far more than he'd ever been paid during the 10-0 run he amassed off the beaten path in states like North Dakota and Washington when he went pro in 2008. Back then, Woodard, gratefully took fights for $100 just to get the bookings. He knew, at the very least, they were steps a positive direction.
The third youngest of nine children, Woodard had already sampled what his life would be like if he'd ventured the other way. Woodard's parents had divorced when he was two years old and he and his siblings were bounced between relatives' homes in Washington, Memphis, and Kentucky for much of their childhood. Woodard's father, a truck driver, was on the road most of the time.
In South Memphis, Woodard learned to defend himself early on. He was on the only biracial kid in his class, and had a slight speech impediment he didn't grow out of until high school. The other students called him "white boy," hit him with the hard, plastic cafeteria plates and told him he smelled because he owned only three outfits.
"I got beat up quite a bit," Woodard said. "Sometimes I got jumped. The only thing I had going for me is I'd watch pro wrestling with my grandma all the time. I could headlock them and hold them down on the ground until, hopefully, somebody would come to help me."
At age 13, Woodard was sent to Alaska to live with his mother. They settled in Montana, but by then, the survival skills he'd cultivated in Memphis were ingrained in him.
Woodard wrestled in high school and competed in a few amateur MMA fights after that, though these weren't the actions of a young athlete looking to better himself.
"At the time, all I wanted to do was be the toughest guy ever with the most perfect grill, who drank whiskey and partied all the time and was the center of attention," said Woodard. "Those were the things I thought were important."
Poor choices followed.