When Tyson Pedro walks to the Octagon on Saturday night at UFC 221, he’ll do so with the two things in life he cherishes most.
Atop his head will be a United States military bucket hat once worn by his cousin Brian, who was killed while on duty in Afghanistan in 2010. Behind him will be his father John, one of the most important pioneers in the history of mixed martial arts in Australia.
Thirty years ago, this scene — thousands of people gathered to watch professional fighters — would have been unthinkable. Australia’s government, according to John Pedro, “compared fighters to pit bulls” and “were doing everything they could to stop MMA from being here.”
Flash forward to 2018 and — thanks to countless efforts by John to legitimize it in the eyes of elected officials — the sport is one of the country’s most popular.
Tyson’s father helped get it to this point. Now it’s his job to continue that legacy.
Tyson Pedro was literally born to fight.
When he came into the world in September of 1991, his parents John and Karran noticed a scar on the top of his head. At the same time, while other children around him were crying, Tyson looked angry and had his hand balled up into a fist by his chin.
Both adults looked at each other and agreed — their son needed to be named after the heavyweight champion of the world and the baddest man on the planet, “Iron” Mike Tyson.
By age 3 he was on the mat stretching, and shortly after he was learning to shadow box. Those who know his father would say this isn’t a surprise. After all, John has a black belt in six different forms of martial arts and owned “King of the Cage,” one of the country’s first professional fighting organizations.
Tyson played rugby, tennis, soccer and volleyball as a kid, but he always gravitated toward MMA. However, being the son of a local legend wasn’t always easy. He felt the pressure to be successful early on, and as other kids went home after class, he often stayed late with his father for extra work.
When Tyson was a senior in high school, he decided he wanted to drop out and pursue fighting full time. Despite his father’s pedigree in MMA, this wasn’t the intended plan. “It wasn’t a good day,” Tyson remembers. “The UFC was in its early stages, and there was no money in it. He had seen all of the fighters who were not making it in Australia, and obviously didn’t want that for me.”
Says John: “When he said he wasn’t going to do [the university], I felt I failed as a parent. He showed me that he wanted to go this other path. I wanted to support him. But to this day, I blame myself.”
He eventually came around to his son’s choice. Except it took a bit of tough love to happen.
Tyson told his father the new plan at the MMA gym. His response? Put on the gloves and spar with me.
“I ended up knocking out his two front teeth,” John recalls. “He was on the ground and was pretty much knocked out. He was dazed and winded. I told him I wanted to see if he had the heart to fight, or if he was going to quit.
“He crawled his way back up. He started throwing punches at me, harder and harder. I grabbed him, looked him in the face and said, ‘You’re going to be all right. You’re going to be a fighter.'”
“I ended up knocking out his two front teeth. He was on the ground and was pretty much knocked out. He was dazed and winded. I told him I wanted to see if he had the heart to fight, or if he was going to quit.”
John Pedro, Tyson’s father
One year ago, though, the tables turned.
The two were training for a bout and things “got heated” in a sparring session. Tyson dropped his father with a punch to the gut — the first time John says he’s ever been knocked down in his life — and he hit the ground and nearly blacked out. When John got up off the mat, he couldn’t see where he was.
Tyson was shocked at what he did. “I just remember his face. He was heartbroken that he hurt me,” John said through tears. “He apologized and told me that he was going to quit fighting. He said, ‘Dad, I’m never fighting again.’ I grabbed him and held him and told him, ‘You’re the protector of this family now.’ I couldn’t be more proud of my son.”
That feeling culminated when Tyson surprised him with news of signing with the UFC in 2016.
“It was one of the most exciting moments that I can remember,” Tyson said. “It was one of those times where everything just came out.”
John, in another state for work, “jumped up, screamed and yelled.”
“I wanted to jump on a plane and fly there and give him the biggest hug. I told him, ‘You’re at the pinnacle of your sport. You said you would get there and you’re here, son.”
Tyson (6-1) has shown major promise since becoming a professional in 2013. His first six fights were all first-round stoppages, four by submission and two by strikes. The last bout, a decision loss to Ilir Latifi at UFC 215 in September, did not go as planned. Latifi was able to take the fight to the ground on multiple occasions and did well against the 6-foot-3 Pedro in the clinch to edge out his opponent.
Pedro called the result “more of a strategy thing than a technical thing.”
“I concentrated so much on Latifi’s strength that I forgot about mine,” Tyson says. “We were so focused on how good of a wrestler he was and how I was going to get up rather than, ‘No, I can take this dude down and can stay on top.’ After that we got back to working on the stuff that got me into the UFC in the first place.”
His next matchup will be in the Octagon against Saparbek Safarov (8-1), a dangerous puncher.
One loss in the UFC isn’t a big deal. Two in a row could hurt any momentum the talented prospect once had. A victory on Saturday night is crucial to achieving his long-term goals.
None of that matters to his father.
“He always said, ‘Dad, one day I’ll be there. One day I’ll be there.’ I always believed he would,” John said. “For him to be there now, and to be a father living his son’s dream — cruising around with him, traveling the world, seeing him happy and smiling. What father can say they are doing that? To hear him say in an interview that his father is his hero? It doesn’t get any better than this.”