As a scholarship athlete at Albuquerque’s University of Hard Knocks (aka Jackson-Wink MMA), Christian Edwards would rather give than receive.
So far, so good.
Edwards, 1-0 thus far in his young professional MMA career, is scheduled to go for victory No. 2 Friday on a Bellator card against Cesar Bennett (pro debut) at WinStar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
A native of Yukon, Oklahoma, some 150 miles north of Thackerville, Edwards came to Albuquerque about 15 months ago. Thanks to previous ties between Jackson-Wink and Richard Guerrero, Edwards’ manager, a “scholarship” of sorts was arranged. Edwards lives in the Jackson-Wink dormitories, expenses paid.
“It’s a monumental opportunity, and I’m super grateful,” Edwards said in the first of two phone interviews with the Journal. “… I’m definitely gonna take full advantage of it.”
The first interview took place in March, a couple of days before Edwards was to have made his pro debut on a Bellator card at WinStar. That fight didn’t happen, because his scheduled opponent, Ramon Huerta weighed in the day before at 227 pounds – 22 pounds over the light heavyweight limit.
Edwards was beyond frustrated at the time and had some choice words for Huerta. But he returned to Albuquerque and Jackson-Wink, continuing to improve, and was rewarded with a spot on a July 12 Bellator card at WinStar. With a healthy contingent of family and friends on hand, he defeated Justin Vargas by first-round TKO (strikes).
At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Edwards has a physique that easily could have lent itself to basketball – or, in football-happy Oklahoma, perhaps a career as a quarterback or as a Randy Moss-type wide receiver.
Edwards, though, had other athletic interests.
“I actually didn’t play any school sports growing up,” he said. “I started jiujitsu when I was 15 and kind of just stuck with that. Then I started training MMA, gradually.”
He was 3-0 as an MMA amateur when he caught Guerrero’s eye. Next thing he knew, he was training at Jackson-Wink with the likes of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
“It’s a truly valuable experience and a very eye-opening experience,” he said. “Like, there is literally nobody in my career that I’ll ever fight that is as talented or as skilled as Jon Jones.”
Edwards has virtually no idea how talented or skilled his Friday opponent might be. Bennett has no listed MMA fights, pro or amateur, and one professional boxing match – a loss by four-round unanimous decision on April 20 in Lawrence, Kansas.
“Honestly, it’s not that big of a deal to me,” Edwards said. “I’m just gonna go in there and trust in my coaching and trust in my training and just have fun. That’s the biggest thing for me, is just having fun.”
He expects once again to have a healthy contingent of friends and family from Yukon in the WinStar arena. But he’ll have three Albuquerqueans – Mike Winkeljohn, Greg Jackson and Joey Villaseñor – in his corner.
“The dream team,” he said. “Oh, man, it gives me the utmost confidence. Those people, I’ve looked up to and watched growing up.
“Now that they’re actually in my corner, it’s mind-blowing to think about.”
The Jackson-Wink brain trust in Thackerville, though, isn’t solely dedicated to Edwards. Another J-W fighter, heavyweight Davion Franklin, is scheduled to face Christian Adams on the undercard. It’s the pro debut for both fighters.
HOLM CLINIC: Albuquerque MMA fighter Holly Holm is scheduled to host a workout at Jackson-Wink on Nov. 23 as a benefit for IncredAble Adaptive MMA, an initiative founded by Heather Winkeljohn, Mike Winkeljohn’s wife. The goal of IncredAble Adaptive is “to create and provide opportunities in MMA for youths and teens with physical and environmental/at risk challenges.”
The cost is $40 per person. For more information or to sign up, go to incredablemma. org.
TV DEAL: It was announced on Wednesday that Combate Americas, a Spanish-language MMA circuit, has signed a contract with AXS-TV to stage 35 televised events in 2020.
Several New Mexico-based fighters, among them Andrés Quintana, Gilbert Urbina, Joby Sanchez and Jerome Rivera, have fought on Combate Americas cards.