If you watched Dana White’s Contender Series last week, you learned to Sean Woodson has been dreaming about being a UFC fighter since he was a child. After losing one of his biggest motivations in his father, and making a promise to fulfill his wish of being the best fighter in the world, it meant that much more to him.
“The Sniper” lived up to his nickname when he knocked out Terrance McKinney in the second round of their featherweight matchup in Las Vegas. With it being only his sixth professional fight and taking the fight on short notice, Woodson wasn’t expecting much more than an audition.
Then he heard the magical words from Dana White: “Welcome to the UFC!”
“It feels like I’m still dreaming,” Woodson told The Body Lock. “It’s a dream come true but it doesn’t seem real.”
The phone call(s) that changed a career path
After winning his last fight in November at Shamrock FC 311, Woodson was scheduled to compete in April at a Nemesis Fighting Alliance event in St. Louis, Missouri. Woodson’s original opponent had to withdraw and the organization was able to find a replacement.
On the day of weigh-ins, Woodson’s second opponent withdrew from the fight for medical reasons and the 27-year-old was off the card altogether.
Woodson continued to train and remain sharp for whatever opportunity might come his way. Less than a week before earning a UFC contract, a post-training ritual of playing video games led to a flurry of missed communication attempts from his manager, Jason House.
“I was sitting at home playing my Xbox, minding my own business like I normally do after training and I looked down and had a bunch of missed phone calls, FaceTime calls, text messages all from my manager,” Woodson explained.
“He’s in contact with me all the time but he’s never hit me up that many times, back-to-back like that so I knew that instant it was something serious. I had a feeling it could be the UFC, so I hit him back, he told me what it was and I knew I had a ton of weight to cut but I didn’t hesitate. I told him yes right away before I even knew I could make the weight, honestly. I wanted to jump all over this opportunity.”
‘The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life’
The total weight Woodson had to cut for the fight was an astounding 24 pounds, which he had to do in four days. Factor in medicals, trying to learn as much about your opponent as possible in a short timeframe, travel arrangements to get to Las Vegas and other factors proved to be quite the ordeal for Woodson. It would be for anybody.
With the chance to accomplish his dreams, Woodson was ready to clear all hurdles to make it happen.
“Hands down, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Woodson said. “It’s a miracle I was able to get it done. Right away, I had to go straight keto, no carbs, so that had me feeling pretty drained. It was just a huge water cut. It was the most I had to cut in my life and it was just extremely draining. It was mentally taxing, too. The weight cut was one thing but, in the back of mind, after I cut all of this weight, I still have to get in there with a collegiate level wrestler that’s going to put the pressure on you and really test my cardio. It’s a mental battle, a physical battle and a huge thing I had to overcome. I’m super glad that I did.”
Terrance McKinney would be standing across the cage from Woodson that night. McKinney, one of the top prospects on the West Coast, had compiled seven finishes in a little over 20 months as a professional — six of those by submission. For the chance to make it to the UFC, sacrifices needed to be made. Opponent knowledge seemed secondary compared to everything else that needed to happen to make the fight happen.
“I actually didn’t know anything about him when I got the call. I was at a point where it didn’t matter who was the opponent. Whenever I got that UFC opportunity, I was going to jump on it no matter what it was. I train every day to take on the best in the world. When I had these regional fights coming up, I wasn’t training for those opponents. I was training to take on UFC level guys.”
Jorge Masvidal’s added inspiration
The fight began as many MMA pundits expected it to: McKinney getting takedowns and looking for submissions.
Woodson spent the majority of the opening round locked in a body triangle and defending multiple rear-naked choke attempts. With McKinney’s arms wrapped around the face and chin of Woodson, it was an uncomfortable position to say the least.
Luckily, Woodson was able to display one of his most important attributes in the fight; his ability to stay calm in the toughest of situations. In fact, that was a repetitive theme throughout the event last week. In the second round, Woodson was able to thwart another McKinney rear-naked choke attempt, and it led to a highlight reel jumping knee knockout.
“We were actually talking about that in the locker room, ‘There’s this theme going on tonight where guys are getting out grappled real bad in the first round and then the opponent turns the entire fight around,'” Woodson stated. “Staying calm is always a huge part of my game. A lot of guys will let the moment get the best of them. They’re in a bad spot, they may panic, and that’s where you can make some huge mistakes. I stayed calm because I’m in that position all the time. My head coach is a black belt. He’s on my back every day. I’m fighting off rear naked chokes all the time. When he got on my back and he’s trying to sink in that choke, I was extremely confident that I would be able to weather the storm and fight that off. I felt him using every ounce of energy that he had. I could’ve probably worked a little harder to get out of that body triangle and get up. But I felt him using way more energy than I was. I was in a good spot. Even though it looked like I was in a bad spot, I was in a good spot. I was saving my energy while he was using his until I had my window of opportunity. I knew when it came, I was going to jump all over it.
“After he got me down, the way he kept relentlessly shooting over and over again, not really setting it up, I was confident. After he got me down that last time, I knew that the next time I got back to my feet I was going to end the fight.”
One of the most devastating knockouts in UFC history came from the knee of welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239. “Gamebred” finished previously unbeaten Ben Askren in a record-setting five seconds to put him in a great position to fight for the UFC welterweight title, and in the knockout history books forever.
It just so happens that Woodson is a huge fan of Masvidal and the incredible finish at UFC 239 just a couple of weeks prior became a catalyst for Woodson’s knockout.
“That dude is my favorite fighter,” Woodson said. “I’ve been a fan of his since day one. Seeing him do that to Ben Askren, that was my happiest moment as a fight fan. I had said in my mind that I was going to be busting that out, from here on out anytime I get into a fight.
“That knee is something I’ve played around with and used from time-to-time. It’s a dangerous move to use in the training room. I don’t want to hurt my training partners. Even with knee pads, it’s still pretty dangerous. After that knockout, I was going to make this sharp. I’m going to make this a good tool in my tool bag. The moment I landed it, I knew it was over.”
The aftermath and a dream achieved
A lot was made in the pre-fight promotional video about the story of Woodson losing his father, and biggest inspiration not long ago. Woodson was very emotional in the pre-fight interviews — and rightfully so — and that carried over to his post-fight conversation with Laura Sanko.
Woodson knew that he the emotions would come flying out in that conversation, especially considering he just capped off a very difficult five-day journey with a knockout win in from of the man who could make his dream come true.
To add to the emotions, Woodson knew his father’s spirit was in the UFC Apex smiling upon him.
“All week, I was like, ‘Damn, these UFC people are good,” Woodson said. “Going into my interview with them… any interview that I go into, I feel like that’s a point people will bring up. I always try to prepare myself for it. You’re not going to get me. I don’t like to feel like I’m reaching for feelings, or use that to my advantage. I don’t like to talk about it much but the UFC interview people, they got me. They had me crying in there. The moment I was walking back to talk to Laura Sanko, I told her before we got on camera that I’m not going to be able to talk. I felt it coming. It just really meant a lot to me to get that done and know that he was watching down on me.”
As Woodson sat in his director’s chair in the winner’s lounge, he knew he had impressed the UFC president and the matchmakers with his performance. How could it not? At best, Woodson believed he would remain on the organization’s radar and, with more experience, the door would open up.
White began his evaluation of Woodson as expected, but then things began to take a very positive turn.
Welcome to the UFC, Sean Woodson.
“When he first started off, I figured he would give me some props, tell me I need to work on some things and they’ll see me back again someday,” Woodson explained of White’s interview with Laura Sanko. “He started saying, ‘He overcame adversity, he took it on short notice’ and then it was kind of building up. I was like, ‘Oh s**t, he’s about to really sign me to the UFC right now.’ He started off a little shaky, but midway through his speech, I knew I was going to get signed.”
Sean Woodson is the news member of the UFC’s featherweight division and has his sights set on making his Octagon debut in September or October. In the meantime, Woodson is not going to stop training or working. He will, however, smell the proverbial roses a little bit, and bask in his incredible journey and accomplishments.
“It’s really so hard to describe it,” Woodson said. “It doesn’t feel real but it’s a dream come true. It sounds so cliche, but this has been my dream since I was eight years old. A lot of people grow up, and it changes for them: you might want to be a football player, a basketball player or a rapper, or something like that. A lot of people’s dreams change over times but mine has been the same since day one. I wanted to be a professional fighter. I wanted to be in the UFC for as long as I can remember and now I’m here.”