Tyron Woodley (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)History Lessons: The Patriot Act and the Early Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren The MMA Corner Staff June 14, 2014 Spotlight Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons. So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was Feb. 7, 2009, and the location was the Holiday Inn Select Executive Center in Columbia, Mo. It was time for Headhunter Productions: The Patriot Act. Mention the University of Missouri wrestling program to a mixed martial arts fan and two of the first names that they’ll mention are those of Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren. The pair were Mizzou teammates, and they’re now sitting in high-profile contender spots in their current promotions—the UFC for Woodley and ONE FC for Askren. In 2009, however, they were just getting started. In college, Woodley was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American and one-time Big 12 Conference champion. After graduating in 2005, he eventually found his way to a MMA gym and started training. He attended the tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter 9, but he couldn’t make it past the final cut. That meant he’d have to earn his shot at the big show the old-fashioned way, by coming up through the regional circuit. The first Patriot Act card from Headhunter Productions offered him the chance to get started on that quest in front of a crowd that knew him well from his wrestling days. His opponent, Steve “Caveman” Schneider, didn’t have the most impressive record—it stood at 11-16-1 at the time—but he did bring 28 fights’ worth of experience to the contest. This was a man who had locked horns with the likes of Jay Hieron, Pat Healy, Rob Kimmons, Michael Johnson, Eric Marriott and James Krause, albeit in losing efforts. He was on a six-fight skid when he met Woodley. If “The Chosen One” couldn’t get past Schneider, his chance at reaching the UFC’s Octagon would likely vanish for good. Despite his experience advantage, Schneider proved to be no match for Woodley. It took just 69 seconds for the Mizzou wrestler to punch Schneider into submission. Schneider would rebound for one of the best stretches of his career—a three-fight winning streak—before losing five out of six, including a rematch with Krause, and going inactive in 2011. It turned out to be one of just two fights Woodley would win at the pro level before signing on the dotted line with Strikeforce. By June 2009, the welterweight was feasting on the lower levels of Strikeforce’s 170-pound weight class. After a 2-0 start on the regional circuit, Woodley marched through eight opponents, including Tarec Saffiedine and Paul Daley, in Strikeforce action. His successful run and undefeated record through 10 career fights was enough to earn Woodley a spot opposite UFC veteran Nate Marquardt in a fight for the promotion’s vacant welterweight championship. Marquardt handed Woodley his first defeat, but it didn’t stop the then 30-year-old fighter from making his way to the UFC. Woodley was just days away from celebrating the fourth anniversary of his pro debut when he stepped into the Octagon for the first time. Woodley has picked up three wins over four UFC outings, with the only loss coming via a split verdict against Jake Shields. At UFC 174, he’ll meet Rory MacDonald. The winner of that contest is likely just one fight away from a title shot. While Woodley was demolishing Schneider, his former Mizzou teammate, Olympic wrestler Ben Askren, was preparing to make his own first foray into professional MMA. The two-time NCAA Division I national champion and four-time All-American was transitioning to MMA after a failed bid for an Olympic medal at the 2008 Olympics. Unlike Woodley, Askren was paired with an inexperienced fighter who remained winless through two pro bouts. That fighter was CMMA Fighting Systems product Josh Flowers. Flowers had debuted with a split decision loss in 2008 and opened 2009 with another loss, this time by armbar. He was seeking to victimize the green Askren, but a win just wasn’t in the books for Flowers. Askren’s wrestling chops were on display that night, but so was the finishing ability that has been absent from much of his pro career. Seconds into the fight, Askren scored the takedown and never allowed Flowers to regain his feet. He rained down the ground-and-pound and mounted Flowers on two occasions. The second mount led to Askren taking Flowers’ back and forcing the referee to step in to save the overwhelmed fighter. Flowers rebounded from the loss to pick up the first and second wins of his career before going inactive in 2010. Meanwhile, Askren returned at the second Patriot Act card for another victory and tacked on an additional win before signing with Bellator. He entered the promotion’s season-two welterweight tournament and won three contests to earn his shot at the champion, Lyman Good. Askren used his wrestling to dominate Good and capture the crown, which he went on to defend four times. Askren never lost his Bellator title in the cage. Instead, he left it behind when Bellator opted not to re-sign him after his successful defense against Andrey Koreshkov in 2013. With neither Bellator nor the UFC interested in his services, Askren headed across the Pacific and signed with ONE FC. He made his promotional debut in late May and came away with his third straight stoppage victory. A possible title bid against reigning champion Nobutatsu Suzuki could lie ahead for the former Bellator champ. As Woodley and Askren were introducing themselves to the MMA world, a veteran of the sport was winding down his career at the event. Din Thomas had already posted a 5-4 mark inside the Octagon over three different stints with the UFC. His most recent run with the promotion came after his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 4. He emerged from the reality show to score wins over Rich Clementi, Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens. Things were looking up for Thomas, but then he ran into Kenny Florian and Josh Neer, who handed him back-to-back losses. Upon his exit from the UFC, Thomas remained out of action for approximately 10 months before returning in the headlining affair of The Patriot Act. His pairing that night was an odd one. He was matched with debuting pro Dustin Pieken, who offered very little against Thomas. Pieken lasted just under three minutes before falling victim to a triangle choke. He has not fought since then. Thomas, meanwhile, went on to defeat Gabe Lemley and Dustin Pague. After more than two years away from action, he returned in 2012 and fought to a no-contest with Cody Bollinger. Nearly a year later, he returned again, this time under the Legacy FC banner, where he fell to Georgi Karakhanyan on the judges’ scorecards. The 37-year-old announced his retirement in January 2014, closing out a 15-year career. The card also featured the second win in the career of Francisco “Kiko” France, who went on to make appearances with Strikeforce and the World Series of Fighting. France needed just 82 seconds to add the first blemish to the record of the formerly undefeated Cory Hill, who would never win another MMA bout before going inactive in 2011. The Patriot Act’s six-fight pro fight lineup might not have included a large number of prospects, but it heralded the arrival of two welterweight prospects who have gone on to play a major role in the title mix of four different major promotions. Askren is already the most successful welterweight champion in Bellator history, and he’s closing in on the ONE FC crown this year. Woodley, meanwhile, made a run at Strikeforce gold, and he now has his sights set on the UFC championship. With the role that this event played in launching the careers of these two successful 170-pounders, The Patriot Act stands as a significant event in MMA history.