Born to be brutal
I started training for a life of fighting when I was about four years old, doing Japanese martial arts with my dad.
Fighting is in my blood. My dad John was a black belt in six different types of martial arts, owned King of the Cage, a pro fighting organisation, and is a legend in the story of MMA in Australia.
Oh, and he and my mum Karran named me after Iron Mike Tyson.
It was a very different upbringing to my other friends who were all off playing soccer and rugby league. From an early age, I was the kid who was fighting in martial arts comps every weekend. And my dad drove me hard.
We’d finish the classes and he’d send me off to the side and make me do more push-ups and sit-ups; extras of everything. He was teaching me the vital lessons as a kid, the discipline, the edge, and that’s what stuck with me.
Even now I’m willing to put in extra work, and it’s always been that way, even at school. Before class I was going to training, after school going to training, even skipping class to go to training.
I got into a selective school and they told us, ‘You don’t have to come class if you don’t want to – we treat you like uni students’. I took them at their word so that pretty much meant I was training all the time.
At about 16, I was doing amateur boxing and I knew I wanted to fight as a career path. At that time my dream was the Olympics, but after a few fights it eventuated I loved MMA, the grappling game, the kicking, the different martial arts aspect of it, more. So I went back to MMA and here I am today, in the UFC which is the biggest fight show in the world.
Coming from dad owning the King of the Cage, and me growing up working the cage door, seeing these amazing fighters, the best of their time, it really stoked that fire for me to compete.
THE WORST HIDING EVER
My defining moment came early. I told my dad I wanted to fight full time and that I didn’t want to go to school any more. He said, ‘OK then, let’s go in the ring.’
I was 16 and I’d never properly sparred with my dad and it was also a time when I was starting to put some weight behind my punches.
We were at a gym in Penrith, and we were sparring steadily when I hit him with probably the cleanest right hand I’ve ever caught anyone with. I remember his eyes glazing over and me going the full panic, running around the ring, trying to get away from him, just jabbing lightly.
It was not a good moment for me! Before the session, he had told me he was just going to move around and try and defend without hitting me.
But once I clocked him with that big right hand, he gave me a quick one-two love tap and the next thing I remember is I’m on the canvas, hearing all these voices around the gym, and just praying I was laying somewhere else – anywhere but that gym.
When I woke up, missing a few teeth that had been knocked out, everyone was pretending they couldn’t see anything and hadn’t seen me go crashing down. I was a little bit teary when I realised there were gaps where some teeth should be, and I started to leave for the bathroom to get cleaned up and regain my composure.
But dad was like, ‘Where are you going?’ There was a minute and half left on the clock and I went into full breakdown mode, tears running, but he made me stand there and punch him for the rest of the round.
That was my initiation into fighting.
I’ll never forget it, of course, nor what came next. ‘You know what?’ he told me, ‘You showed balls in there.’ I had really impressed him. It cost me a couple of teeth, but was a huge moment in my fight career.
I guess it sounds shocking, and pretty intense for most people. But we grew up around fighting. We were always dealing with weapons. I got my first sword when I was 12, and had been sparring with martial arts sticks for a long time.
Dad was really hard on me, out of all the kids, especially when it came to martial arts, so it wasn’t really shocking or even that surprising to me. It was just the worst hiding I ever got.
I didn’t realise that my dad had been teaching what we now commonly know as mindfulness to me since I was a kid. As much as I bust his balls 😂 he was way ahead of his time when it came to mental preparation. Every time we had class, training, competitions or a fight he would tell us to leave everything at the door completely switch on and be in the moment, no bills to pay, no family dramas just here and now. Making me focus on turning on that “kill mode” that’s why I’m happy dancing to the octagon enjoying the moment but When I bow into that cage, it’s game time. 👊🏽👊🏽 #savage #killmode #lessonslearntinblood
THE DAY I DROPPED DAD
A few years later we were training again and I hit dad with a body shot, and it was the first time he’d ever been knocked down by anyone. This was when he was starting to become an older man.
He could still punch like a monster but I think he also had a dislocated shoulder – we were rolling in jiu-jitsu and his shoulder just dislocated, pulled straight out of the socket, tore everything in it.
That was in 2011 and he only just got it fixed last year.
It was the changing of the guard. Up to that day, I’d always been ‘John Pedro’s son’ but suddenly people at the gym were starting to say, ‘That’s Tyson Pedro’s dad’.
I got no joy out of that. It was frustrating to me. People were seeing this man who was a bit older, not training as much, and just moving around the mats, but they didn’t see the absolute badass I’d seen growing up, just knocking everyone out.
It was hard to watch because I had so much respect for dad, but it helped us get closer and closer as we got older.
I had really impressed him. It cost me a couple of teeth, but was a huge moment in my fight career.
Mum absolutely hates my sport. She has hated it ever since I was doing jiu-jitsu and karate as a kid and she can’t watch me now. My first amateur boxing bout she came to watch, at Blacktown youth club, the guy clipped me and I had a flash knockdown and was sat on my butt.
I stood back up but she screamed at the top of her voice at me, so she’s been banned from coming to any of my fights since then. She came to Perth when I fought there in the UFC, but she babysat my nephew.
When the fights are happening, she’ll go to Aldi because she can’t even listen to them.
I haven’t tried to talk her out of it because I completely understand where she’s coming from. I remember when my brother was playing rugby league for the St George Harold Matthews Cup team and his shoulder popped out.
You feel helpless because it’s your little brother, so I feel where she’s coming from, watching her little baby getting punched in the face.
Even my dad is like that when it comes down to it. He gets anxiety but he still believes in me 100 per cent.
BEER, BIKES & ROSIE
Family is always there with me.
The bucket hat I wear into the ring belonged to my cousin Brian. He was killed fighting in Afghanistan. His mother sent it to me and I started wearing it to every fight, as my little memorial to him.
Brian was supposed to come over to visit us two weeks before he passed, on a trip away from Afghanistan and this is how I can keep that memory going.
Brian was my father’s sister’s son and very close to my sister and my dad. That hurt me deeply, seeing how much pain my dad was in. It made it so much harder.
I’m very proud to be the first person to wear the traditional Samoan tatau into the UFC octagon. Now Tai Tuivasa has joined me wearing one there as well. I think that’s a crazy story in itself, the fact that two brothers-in-law, and not even that, two kids coming up from western Sydney, have made it into UFC. I think people underestimate how big a deal that is.
It’s great sharing this journey with Tai. Not long ago we were sitting around watching some funny videos and commenting on it and we were like, ‘Man, we could do this, it’ll be funny’, and that led us to launching the Halfcast podcast.
We started out joking around and teasing each other but a few episodes in we realised we were giving value and getting stories out of people that hadn’t been heard before, like when we had Andrew Fifita on there, and it started getting better and better.
Mum absolutely hates my sport. She has hated it ever since I was doing jiu-jitsu and karate as a kid, and she can’t watch me now.
I’m actually quite an introvert and, besides fighting, not many people know much about me. But I thought it was time to start letting people know a bit more about me, and what happened after my last fight came from that.
The ring announcer asked me what I was going to do next. I thought about the answer I might give beforehand but then it just came out after I won:
‘Go home, make love to my wife, go real fast on my motorbike, drink a generous amount of beer, get that title, get a million followers and go on the Joe Rogan podcast.’
— UFC Aus/New Zealand (@UFC_AUSNZ) February 11, 2018
When I was in there everyone seemed to laugh and enjoy it. The video got picked up by the big MMA and general sports sites around the world and, next thing you know, it’s gone viral.
Some hated it, some loved it, some said I was trying to be like Conor McGregor but that’s literally me. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, love my beer and had to put my wife Rosie in there – she wouldn’t want me talking about motorbikes and beer without giving her a mention as well.
Rosie has been at home while I’m in America training for my next fight. She’s as strong as I am, if not stronger. It’s a tough sport and it asks a lot of her and the family, being away all the time.
It’s tough but I need to do what I love and she gives me the opportunity to do it.
MY OWN LEGACY
I had two wins straight off the bat in UFC. I took the first fight against Khalil Rountree on short notice and came out with a performance of the night bonus. I got another first round win at UFC 209 and they were like, ‘Man, let’s give this guy a challenge’ and gave me a top 10 guy in Ilir Latifi.
I honestly believed I was ready for it but sometimes things don’t go to plan. He was a better fighter on the day.
I wasn’t upset about the loss because I learned so much from it. People make a deal out of two-fight losing streaks, but when I lined up against Saparbek Safarov earlier this year, I didn’t feel that much pressure. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I just thought I’ll still be me whatever way it works out. There’s no point panicking.
I came away with that win. I felt that everything was on. As long as I can keep doing that I’ll keep getting the wins and that’s the plan for the next one, against Ovince Saint Preux in Singapore on June 23.
He’s a big guy, and it’s a huge fight for me but I will be prepared. One of my biggest strengths is putting in the work all the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself, I go in there work hard and do everything the best I can. I believe in myself – even if I’m getting beat up.
My goal is a run to the world title. I want to be hitting that by 2020 and I honestly believe I’ll be there. People have expected this of me since I was a kid.
I’m always living up to people’s expectations – dad’s boy who was training since he was a baby, a prodigy everyone was talking about.
I’m trying to do something great. And leave my own legacy for the Pedros.