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J-W’s Edwards, built like “Bones,” makes a rapid ascent

MMA light heavyweight Christian Edwards fires a right hand at Marco Hutch during Edwards’ victory by unanimous decision on Feb. 21. (Courtesy of Bellator)

Christian Edwards knows he’s a fortunate young man.

At 21, he’s already a year-and-a-half into a professional MMA career with a 3-0 record.

A light heavyweight blessed with a Jon Jones-like physique, he’s surrounded and supported by some of the most highly respected coaches in the sport at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA.

He began his pro career with Bellator, the second-most powerful circuit in the U.S. – a status many fighters labor for years to achieve. Most of them never made it that far and never will.

Yet, Edwards also knows that, ultimately, an MMA fighter makes his own luck.

The next step and the next challenge: Thursday against Hamza Salim on a Bellator card at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“Honestly, it’s such a humbling feeling that I have a great advantage as far as starting early in life and knowing what I want to do at an early age,” Edwards said in a phone interview. “I’m gonna do it till the wheels fall off. It’s just a good feeling.”

Edwards got his start in MMA in his hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma, where, despite a 6-foot-5 frame that fairly screamed basketball (or Randy Moss-type wide receiver), he shunned the ball-and-stick sports and immersed himself in the martial arts.

He was a month past his 19th birthday when he made his amateur MMA debut in Oklahoma City. He was 3-0 as an amateur when, having caught the eye of agent Richard Guerrero, he was awarded a “scholarship” to train in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink.

Now, Edwards said, “Albuquerque is definitely my new home. I stayed in Albuquerque while all the crazy (COVID-19) stuff was going on. Of course I miss my family back in Oklahoma, but I’ll go back and see them for the holidays.”

The crazy stuff, of course, is not over. Edwards spoke to the Journal from his Connecticut hotel room, where he was quarantining after being tested for COVID.

Any inconvenience, he said, had not and would not faze him.

“I’m holding up fine, just thinking about the fight,” he said. “That’s all I’m focused on right now, just making weight and executing my game plan on Thursday.”

Asked about Salim (5-3), a hard-punching, Karate-based fighter from Washington state, Edwards said he trusted implicitly the Jackson-Wink brain trust with him at Mohegan Sun – Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, Joey Villasenor – to prepare him for anything he might encounter.

“Honestly, I love looking at tape (of his opponents) with my coaches,” he said. “I don’t look at tape unless it’s with my coaches. The way they break it down … They’re geniuses, they’ve been doing what they do for a long time. The way they break down fighters is, honestly, spectacular to watch sometimes.

“I just trust what my coaches put in my head and (that) what they told me is gonna be there for me and exploit it on Thursday.”

Thus far, the combination of Jackson-Wink preparation and Edwards’ prowess has worked swimmingly: two first-round TKOs and a win by unanimous decision in February.

The past eight months, he said, have not been wasted despite the lack of actual competition.

“I definitely think I’ve been able to improve,” he said. “I’ve seen the improvement in sparring, and especially my wrestling.

“At first (due to coronavirus precautions) there weren’t any wrestling classes or anything like that. But I was still studying, still working on things we were working on before the whole shutdown happened. So, yeah, I feel like I’ve definitely evolved and gotten better as a mixed martial artist.”

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