Bellator 186’s Tywan Claxton Talks His Pro Debut, NCAA, and Meeting Rumble Johnson

Tywan Claxton makes his pro MMA debut at Bellator 186
Edinborough's David Habat, left, wrestles with Ohio's Tywan Claxton during their 149-pound quarterfinal match Friday, March 20, 2015, at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

At Bellator 186 on November 3, collegiate wrestling standout Tywan Claxton will be making his professional and promotional debut — the latest in a string of highly touted rookies to set foot in the Bellator cage.

The card will unfold at Penn State, smart booking on the part of Bellator MMA, who have thrown in some PSU alums: Phil Davis and Ed Ruth, most notably. While Claxton didn’t attend Penn State, he is a former Bobcat, having wrestled for Ohio University. Prior to becoming a Bobcat, “Speedy” was a Division II All-American at King University in Tennessee.

Now training with the Blackzillians and ready to step into the spotlight, Claxton spoke to Cageside Press in the build up to Bellator 186 about his wrestling career, his callouts of fellow prospect Aron Pico, his first encounter with Anthony Johnson, and of course his bout Friday against Jonathan Bowman.

First up, however, we wanted to know when the wrestling standout was first drawn to mixed martial arts. “In high school, I used to hang out with a lot of the local college guys at Notre Dame college, which is a Division II school” Claxton told us. “A lot of those guys were tough, bad ass, and I started to get into fighting after I was done wrestling, and so I just kind of jumped on the bandwagon and started fighting a little bit and fell in love with it.”

Of course, wrestling was still number one at that point. Yet Tywan Claxton’s dreams of an NCAA championship were cut short when the organization ruled him ineligible to compete in another wrestling season, as he participated in two tournaments during his first year at Ohio — which they counted as a full season.

His reaction to that, with some time having passed? “Hey the NCAA is gonna get sued when I get rich. But there’s no hard feelings, I’m just gonna sue them when I get rich” he said with a chuckle.

Taking a more serious tone, he explained that “it was a lifelong dream to be NCAA champion, and it just didn’t happen. I just felt like the way that they went about it and how long the process took, etc., just wasn’t right for an organization that’s supposed to take care of the athletes, since the athletes aren’t getting paid.”

“It’s supposed to be about the athlete and learning and etc, etc, personal growth, all the stuff they feed you, the B.S.” he continued. “Yeah there’s definitely hard feelings there.”

Did his dream being cut short motivate him, coming into MMA?

“At first it did — it motivated me through all the rough days that I had when I first started fighting and when I first started training with the Blackzillians” Claxton told us. “It was my motivation as like ‘you can’t accomplish one goal, you accomplish the next.’ But now I’m at the point where wrestling is dead, it’s gone, and now fighting actually motivates me for fighting.”

Wrestling “was a motivator through the rough times, but it’s not anymore” he concluded.

Had the NCAA not gotten in the way, however, would he still have taken the same path to the cage, jumped into the sport at the same time?

“Speedy” told us that “I think I definitely would have had the same path. I’m not a 9 to 5 type guy. I like to get in, get out, get some work in, kind of live life own my own terms.”

“I just remember walking by, and I can’t remember what was said but Rashad said something about Rumble. I started laughing, and AJ turns around and goes ‘what the hell are you laughing at?”

A day job is not for him. “I would have had to pick a job where — I couldn’t have like a real boss, you know I can train when I want to train, do what I want to do, eat when I want to eat, sleep when I want to sleep. So I definitely would have gone down the MMA path, it just think it happened a little faster.”

Following the death of his wrestling dream, Claxton hooked up with the Blackzilians, who have a wealth of talent in their ranks. How did joining the team impact such a young fighter?

“It’s made me into a complete fighter right away” he said. “If you have to stand up and bang with guys like Robin van Roosmalen, because you get yelled at for trying to take him down on standup day, it makes you really comfortable on your feet really fast.” It’s something that applies to all disciplines. “When it’s jiu-jitsu day and you’re going with guys like Gilbert Burns and Junior Buscapé, you’re going with multiple time BJJ black belts and world champion this and that, it helps you out a lot. It helps you round out your game and helps build up your confidence that you can’t be beaten, that you are the best in your weight class.”

How did he know the Blackzilians were the team for him? Claxton recounted his first day with the team, and an encounter with former UFC champion Rashad Evans and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson — one of the scariest power punchers in recent UFC history.

“I remember the first day, I walked in and Rashad Evans and Rumble were going back and forth talking s*** to each other. I just remember walking by, and I can’t remember what was said but Rashad said something about Rumble. I started laughing, and AJ turns around and goes ‘what the hell are you laughing at?’ That moment right there, was like ‘damn, I know I need to be in this gym.’ It was intimidating, but then again, I was like ‘I’m not really laughing at nothing’ – I can’t remember what it was, but it was hilarious. Just that atmosphere and that vibe alone, I was like ‘man this is a great team, I need to be here.’ I packed up and moved down right away.”

Give Claxton credit for having that reaction in a situation that might make others wilt, especially as a newcomer to the gym.

With all the UFC talent with the Blackzilians, what was the deciding factor in Tywan Claxton joining Bellator?

“When you broke and you making zero dollars, none of that s*** really matters to be honest.”

“For me it was simple, it’s an organization that’s growing. I’m real big on growth. I think that as long as you continue to grow, you can be the best in the world, you can take over anything, it doesn’t matter” the soon-to-debut Bellator fighter explained. “For me, Bellator is growing, and the UFC isn’t. It’s not growing, it’s not going anywhere. So it was a no-brainer. I said ‘hey man, I need to fight in Bellator, because that’s going to be the organization that, in four or five years from now, they’re going to be doing incredible things.'”

“So I had to jump on board the ship before it was too late.” Jump aboard he did. And what of the much maligned Reebok deal over in the UFC, which prevents athletes from picking up individual sponsors? For Claxton, it wasn’t an issue.

“When you broke and you making zero dollars, none of that s*** really matters to be honest. That didn’t really play a factor for me. I wasn’t thinking like ‘hey, if I go here I’ll get this amount of money, if I go here I’ll get this amount of money.’ I just fought for the last two years for free. So if somebody said they wanted to give me $100 and a case of Natty Light, I’ll fight for $100 and a case of Natty Light. It’s more than I was getting before. It wasn’t really a monetarily driven decision.”

On page two, we discuss going pro, Aron Pico being the “Sage Northcutt” of Bellator, Bellator 186 opponent Jonny Bowman and more!