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This story is the first in a two-part series about local MMA fighter Shawn Woodyard. Check back next week for the second part. Warning: This story includes some adult language.
Growing up as an outsider, Shawn Woodyard needed to find his way to fit in. Sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right.
Born in Ohio, Woodyard moved to Danville at age 12. At age 14, Woodyard moved to Marion County.
"I felt like always the outsider because I came to Marion County when I was 14," Woodyard said. "My family's not from here. I'm the only Woodyard, even my mom's not named Woodyard, so I'm the only Woodyard here."
Unlike a lot of the kids in Marion County, Woodyard didn't grow up with anyone here. Friendships had been formed long before he moved to Marion County. He said growing up in a poor family didn't help either.
"I feel like I had to find my way to fit in. So what I'd do, maybe use jokes and always try to fight, try to be a bad ass," Woodyard said.
Growing up small was also a problem for Woodyard.
"Pretty much a smart ass is what I was," Woodyard said. "I was a little prick kid that you would see come into the club and be like, 'Gosh, here we go.' I was that type of person."
Drugs and jail weren't uncommon for Woodyard during this time period. Fighting has changed that, he said, but not everyone believes that.
"Whenever I started fighting it humbled me," Woodyard said. "Some people would think it's going to make me more of an punk because I think I'm all that but it's not like that. Now if I go into a club and somebody bumps me real hard, you know it's like, 'I'm sorry man.' I like the type of person that it's made me that's why I continue to do it."
He said the process has humbled him because of some hard knocks he took early on in his training.
"When I first started fighting I went into a school with people that's been doing it for a while. I haven't. So I'm going in there getting my butt kicked a lot," Woodyard said. "I'm going in there getting my butt kicked a lot by younger kids."
One kid in particular, a 16-year-old kid that weighed 135 pounds, helped lead Woodyard down the path to modesty.
"I was about 165 pounds and this kid was pint sized, little," he said. "But he used to beat me up everyday. I can't sit here and lie. Things like that are what humbled me. I'm not the bad guy in the club any more, you know what I mean? When I was 16, if I'd have ran into a guy like this I'd have been made to look terrible."
Woodyard got his start locally, fighting in a MMA style match for the first time at Cozy Corner in Loretto.
He was already training at a karate school in Danville but the upcoming fights propelled him to make his debut.
Prior to that his only fights had come in the streets or in a Tough Man competition, which he won, in 2004.
"I thought that's something I'd like to do. I'm always at the clubs, been drinking, getting into fights," he said. "It's something I want to do legally, that way I'm not getting into trouble about it. I didn't want to fall in there not knowing anything so I went and trained with Finn's up Danville."
Woodyard was hooked from there. He won two fights in his weight class at the Cozy Corner debut.
"I just loved the adrenaline rush," he said. "You're so nervous, you're more nervous than you've ever been, like, completely, right before you step in there. Then when you get in there everything goes away and it's war. It's me and him, it's not sitting there playing, we're trying to take each other out and I just loved it, I loved the competition of it."
In 2008, Woodyard was ranked in the top five in his weight class in the state. He stopped fighting for a while and has since dropped in the rankings. He is currently in the top 15 in his weight class and will try to rise in the ranks soon. His next fight is Nov. 13 in Danville.
The arc to success doesn't follow a straight line, however. Though Woodyard found his way to fit in, it wouldn't exempt him from suffering through one of the greatest tragedies a person could face.
Woodyard's story takes a turn for the worst following a tragic accident in 2008 resulting in the loss of his son. See next week's issue to see how fighting helped Woodyard cope with his own personal hell.