Tyson Pedro: Fighting Stereotypes
When 26 year old Aussie Tyson Pedro is announced in the UFC octagon as “fighting out of Sydney, Australia” it speaks only a half truth. He is indeed Australian born but as is the case with many of his fellow countrymen his ancestry originates elsewhere; in Pedro’s case through his parents’ Spanish and Samoan roots.
He also stands representing Sydney’s Western Suburbs, an area that holds a troubled reputation, populated by over 2 million people with over half the region’s households hailing from migrant backgrounds. The residents are known to outsiders as “Westies”, a label that carries negative connotations born from an elitist prejudice that exists within the greater Sydney area. The notion that those from the West are somewhat less desirable than their neighbours in the Northern Beaches or Eastern Suburbs is a stigma carried through childhood to adult life.
Many often fall prey into believing the stereotype that you will amount to nothing if you hail from Sydney’s West. Prospective employers in the city have been known to turn down job applicants because of their address. Australian Rugby League legend and media personality Mark Geyer, raised in the Western Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt, has labelled this behaviour as “postcode racism”. Pedro is part of a group who are using their actions and opportunities to prove this theory wrong.
Along with close friend and family member, UFC Heavyweight Tai Tuivasa, Pedro was one of three fighters representing the Pacific Islanders community at UFC 221 in Perth. It should have been four but for the unfortunate withdrawal of 185lb Champion Robert Whittaker who was due to main event against former Champion Luke Rockhold. Both Pedro and Tuivasa walked away with victories with only MMA legend Mark Hunt not being able to clinch a W on the night.
Offered the idea that the event in Perth would be looked back on in years to come not only as a night of individual success but a historic evening for Australian MMA, for the Polynesian community and for Western Sydney in particular, Pedro ponders “For sure, it’s going to be hard to keep outdoing myself with these types of shows, That was one of my big goals to fight on the same show as them, in front of a home crowd and because of how much it went off it’s gonna be hard to top it again”.
An “overnight success” at the age of 26, Pedro has trained in Martial Arts since the age of 4. His father Jon Pedro was an instrumental figure in bringing Mixed Martial Arts into Australia, participating in the first ever “cage fight” Down Under. I asked Tyson whether the stories were true that when he announced his intentions to fight full time for a living to Jon that his father took him in the cage for a sparring session to test his mettle: “If you want to call it that” Pedro laughs, “I’d call it more of a beating!”
“At first he didn’t want me involved in MMA as he’d been around the scene so long and saw that there weren’t many paths to take in Australia to make it a career but he’s very happy now to see where we’re at.”
That struggle with the decision was more to do with the opportunities at hand rather than a father doubting his son’s abilities. UFC 221 in Perth would not have been a possibility this time 12 months ago as the Western Australian Government only lifted their ban on a cage being used in Mixed Martial Arts events in June of last year after the McGowan Labor Party were sworn in in March 2017.
“It’s sort of been a long time coming, I’ve been involved with MMA in Australia for a long time and it’s been frowned upon here quite a bit, I guess the Australian media especially are starting to realise it’s not just a barbaric sport and they’re getting behind us in general. That’s allowing us to get MMA into more households.”
It’s comes as no surprise that Tyson was willing to bide his time and back himself to be successful despite the lack of a clear path to follow. Positivity emanates throughout the tight nit group of he, Tuivasa, Hunt and others, forged through their friendships and outlook on life, a lot of that attributed to their backgrounds.
“I guess we show positivity in a different way, it’s our ability to turn negatives into positives as well, when you’re in bad situations we try to see the best in it or take positives away from it. There’s a lot of negativity in Western Sydney and you can even get it from your family but you have to be able to block out the noise and be able to make everything positive just to get away from it.”
Immediately following the only blemish on his pro record, a unanimous decision loss to World number 5 Ilir Latifi in September last year, Pedro could be seen in good spirits with journalists, obviously disappointed by the loss and for not playing to his own strengths but quick to express what he had learned from the fight, backing up his claim to take a positive from any setback.
An unforgiving sport with waves of highs and lows, as the 7-1 fighter makes his ascent through the Light Heavyweight rankings, now sitting at #12 after only 4 fights with the promotion, we discussed his thoughts on the USADA testing, still very much in it’s infancy as Jeff Novitsky and his team set about ensuring every avenue is explored to set up a level playing field: “I’m definitely in favour of it, I signed up for a clean sport so I’m all for it.”.
Pedro knows only too well about the risks involved as he had to watch Hunt suffer the ordeal in which his opponent Brock Lesnar was found to have failed a drug test a week before they faced off at the company’s showcase UFC 200 event. With the regulations for fighters coming out of retirement not followed as far as drug testing is concerned, Hunt entered the Octagon that night against an opponent who held a clear and dangerous advantage over him. Hunt sued the UFC, president Dana White and Lesnar himself as he claimed financial and physical damage in what he deemed a “criminal conspiracy”.
“It was definitely a hard spot for Mark, especially when people hate on him for complaining about the whole situation but I totally agree with him, especially when people are saying “you signed to fight him so why are you complaining now?”. It’s not like you go into a fight thinking “oh he’s going to bash me up because he’s on the gear”, I have to be 100% confident in myself and Mark is always when he goes into a fight. It’s hard to see people hating on him for doing the right thing.”
“With USADA a lot of people don’t understand you can have a bad supplement and it be mixed in the wrong batch and test positive for that but I definitely agree that if you do have steroids in your system you have to cop the suspension.”
The elephant in the room of the Light Heavyweight division that Pedro currently occupies is that of former champion Jon Jones, his license revoked still after a hearing last week, no ban handed down as yet but a $250,000 fine recommended until USADA can determine a fitting punishment.
“Be interesting to see him back in there. I wonder what DC (current champion Daniel Cormier) will do if he beats Stipe (Miocic)? Will he come back to fight Jon or retire?”
Whilst the top of the Light Heavyweight division waits to see how a shuffle of its members plays out, Pedro has one other thing to occupy his mind… finding a suitable nickname. All great fighters have memorable nicknames, from “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell through to Pedro’s own teammates “Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa and “The Super Samoan” Mark Hunt.
Tyson seems keen to find his own rather than go the traditional route of being afforded one as his career progresses, “People keep trying to get one out there, I’m gonna have to come up with something soon because otherwise there’ll be some dumb arse stuff that someone will chuck out there”. I offer him up the suggestion of taking on “The Bone Collector” which he used as a Twitter hashtag in relation to the controversy in him not winning the bonus for Submission of the Night for that outstanding Kimura in Perth.
Pedro’s reply? As self-deprecating, Western Sydney as it gets; “See that’s what I mean, you’ve gotta be careful with these nicknames because then someone will start writing “The Boner Collector” and it’s just too easy if you don’t come up with a good nickname!”
Asked what’s next for him on this incredible rise with the three men above him in the rankings all locked in for fights: “I’m trying to book in now, I will take a short notice fight if it’s there but I’m now getting to the point where when you’re fighting top 10 guys or even top 15 guys you can’t really be taking short notice fights in three weeks against guys who are having full camps. I will try to stay as ready as I can but you need to give it at least a couple of weeks especially being in Australia because all of these fights are in different time zones so it takes another week on top of that. I am willing to fight anyone in the top 15. 2019 is going to be a big run for me, I think that’ll be my year to get into the top 5”.
As Pedro continues to prepare for opportunities to arise, he is putting his time to good use as one half of “The Half Caste Podcast” with Tuivasa, increasing their exposure on a platform that affords them the opportunity to showcase their personalities, displaying the sense of humour that UFC journalists and fans of the sport have come to love from the Western Sydney boys done good.
Australia has a reputation to outsiders as being home to predators that can harm you in various ways. That holds as true in the octagon now as it does in the bush. The difference is there’s no anti-venom for a 6’3”, 205lb athletic monster slapping a rear naked choke on you!