Earlier in the pandemic, Christian Edwards admits things weren’t looking too good for MMA. Especially as a young fighter, with sports coming screeching to a halt, it was “a really scary situation,” he admitted ahead of his return to action at Bellator 249 this Thursday.
“For a while, not just the sport, but the gyms were shut down too,” he noted. Edwards trains at Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, NM, and quickly rose to fame as one of the training partners of former UFC champ Jon Jones.
“We were not even training, at least I wasn’t. Of course I was with myself, doing the little things I could here and there. But it was scary because I didn’t know how long it was going to be like that,” Edwards (3-0) explained. “I felt like I was starting to lose motivation, which I hate feeling like. It’s like the worst feeling I’ve ever felt towards my career and my training. It was a scary time for sure, but as soon as we got back to doing small classes and doing what we could here and there with Coach Wink, it was definitely a light at the end of the tunnel for sure.”
Edwards actually has an apartment at the gym. There’s both apartments and dorms at Jackson-Wink MMA, and Edwards is one of the lucky ones with his own space. That made things a little easier in terms of coping. That, combined with running, hitting the heavy bag, etc., allowed him to get through it. But ultimately Edwards is a much bigger fan of working with his team. “It’s a different environment when you go into a gym and it’s totally empty every day. Something about it doesn’t feel the right way.”
Thankfully, things are looking up. Edwards returns against Hamza Salim at Bellator 249 — although he originally had a fight scheduled in August. Only for his opponent to pull out at the last minute.
“I was disappointed for sure. I was ready, I was definitely ready to perform and compete,” Edwards said of his near-miss at Bellator 243. “That’s not the first time that’s happened to me. That’s the second time that’s happened since I’ve been with Bellator now.”
Yet while it was disappointing, it’s not discouraging when it comes to fighting in the promotion. “Bellator’s awesome. Because I showed up and I was ready to make weight and ready to fight, they still paid me my show money,” Edwards noted.
There’s no “poor me” in this situation. It was just on to the next one. “And hopefully that guy will come ready and prepared, unlike the last guy.”
In fact, Edwards is hoping that Salim comes with intensity. Because the plan, as he put it, is that “I’m not going to give him any space at all. I’m going to be in his face the entire time, and I’m going to put a pace on that I don’t think he’s ready for. When he steps in there with me, he’ll know I’m different than the last guy he fought.”
Expectations can take on a life of their own in mixed martial arts. Both fans and media are guilty of placing an absurd level of expectations on fighters due to a single performance, or because of their association with a top fighter or camp. Look no further than Israel Adesanya and City Kickboxing. Or Khabib Nurmagomedov, and frankly any fighter coming out of Dagestan.
Or for that matter, Edwards himself and Jon Jones/Jackson-Wink. The moment he arrived in Bellator, Edwards was viewed as a future champ. He still is. And that’s a lot to put on a guy who’s had all of three professional fights. But to hear Edwards tell it, he’s just plain motivated to live up to those expectations.
“I’ve never been the type of person to break under pressure. I just feel like it motivates me, to live up to the expectations that are put on me,” Edwards said of the rather unique situation he’s found himself in early in his career. “They wouldn’t be saying these things like ‘he’s the next big thing, he’s the future of Bellator’ or whatever they say, they wouldn’t be saying these things if they didn’t see something in me.”
Not only does Edwards feel like he’s “doing this for all the right reasons,” he believes he has the perfect training camp, coaches and teammates to achieve his goals. “I know that I have every advantage that I need to be successful in this sport of MMA. Now I just need to believe in myself and make it happen. That’s a good thing, I think. I don’t really see it as pressure, I just see it was living up to the expectations.”
Edwards is looking beyond just title contention when it comes to his future. “Wins will add up and those will speak for themselves, but I definitely want to go further than just being the champion. I want to be known as one of the best to ever do it.”
“They’ve got Melvin Manhoef about to fight this dude, and both those guys have glass chins anyway.” Christian Edwards on Bellator newcomer Corey Anderson
That will mean eventually making the jump to the upper level of the 205lb weight class. Edwards is game. He’d previously taken to social media to sound off on promotional newcomer Corey Anderson.
Edwards says he’s absolutely down for that fight, after writing online that he was ready to “enter the matrix” with Anderson. The 21-year old also understands why it’s not a fight the promotion would want to make right away.
“They’ve got Melvin Manhoef about to fight this dude, and both those guys have glass chins anyway,” stated Edwards. “It’s just going to be a matter of who gets knocked out first. They don’t want to throw him to a young, hungry lion like myself. Because one, I have knockout power, real knockout power, and that’s a horrible, horrible match-up for him.”
Edwards proceeded to rattle off a list of occasions on which Anderson’s head has hit the canvas. “Let’s just look back on how many times Corey Anderson has been knocked out. I’ll just name three, right off the bat. Ovince Saint Preux, knocked out with a head kick. Jan Blachowicz, knocked out with a right hook. Jimi Manuwa, knocked out with a left hook. He just gets knocked out, that’s his thing.”
Edwards admits that Anderson does have skill. “I’ll give him that, I know he’s an experienced veteran,” he said. “I’m not trying to be disrespectful in any kind of way, I know it sounds disrespectful, but I’m just saying facts, plain and simple. He gets knocked out, that’s what he does. He doesn’t have a very durable chin.”
So if the pair were to face off, “I’m going to knock him out, more than likely. Of course they’re not going to do that [book the match-up between Edwards and Anderson] right off the bat.”
Don’t miss Christian Edwards returning to the Bellator MMA cage this Thursday, October 15 at Bellator 249 in Uncasville, CT. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network following online prelims.