There’s been no official tally taken, but I would estimate that at least 75 percent of the big winners on the two seasons of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series believed they earned a UFC contract as soon as they left the Octagon with their victory. Some, like Maycee Barber, thought she had it locked up as soon as she signed her contract. And she was right.
But then there’s Te Edwards, who used a single right hand to end his June 26 bout against Austin Tweedy by knockout in 28 seconds, then used that same hand to sign the imaginary contract he held up as soon as referee Chris Tognoni waved the bout off.
“Yeah, I kind of figured I had it,” Edwards laughed. “It was too clean.”
After one more fight that night in Las Vegas, UFC President White made it official. The 27-year-old member of the United States Air Force Reserves was a UFC fighter. And one who has clear star potential on his way to the promotion’s toughest division. That’s a good thing for Edwards, and a good thing for everyone watching.
“Yes, this is a sport,” he said. “Yes, we all want to be the best. But you have to keep in mind that every sport is a form of entertainment. We’re not doctors, we’re not engineers, we’re not building society or building anything that’s necessary for survival or life; we’re here to entertain people, to get them away from their jobs so they have something to watch. So the more exciting you are, the more entertaining you are the and the more personality you have, the more people want to watch that.”
And the more people want to watch you, the more opportunities you will get. And thanks to Edwards ending all six of his pro wins via first-round knockout, a stretch that includes finishes of 28, 33, and 43 seconds. Yeah, Edwards is someone worth watching, though he admits his ability to get his opponents out of there before he even gets a chance to sit on the stool between rounds hasn’t necessarily been by design.
“Honestly, it’s not like I’m rushing it,” Edwards said. “I’m settled in, I did a good warm-up in the back. I just practice a lot with timing and set-ups and I have a good game plan every time I go into a fight. I study the guys, I’ve seen them and their movements and patterns, so I normally don’t waste time. It takes me a couple seconds to see how they react to certain things, where they move their head, and it doesn’t take long for me to gauge what they’re gonna do. And I’m not afraid to pull the trigger, so then I execute and usually I don’t miss very often and I hit with bad intentions. So if I do land it, you’re gonna feel it for sure.”
The scary part for prospective opponents is that they’ve only seen his striking power on tape. The rest of his game is still a mystery, but Arizona’s Edwards is about to let the secret out: He’s not as inexperienced as a 6-1 pro record would lead anyone to believe.
“I’ve had an issue since I started fighting where guys look at my record and they’re like, ‘He doesn’t have a whole lot of fights, he’s inexperienced,’ or whatever excuse,” Edwards said. “But keep in mind that I have 300-plus collegiate wrestling matches at the D1 level, wrestling and competing against the best guys in the country. Being on a stage and competing at a high level is not new to me. I have way more experience in that aspect than most of the fighters you see in the UFC. The only difference is, the sport is different. So a sport in which I had more limitations, where I couldn’t strike, I couldn’t choke you, I couldn’t kick you, I could only wrestle you, all you did was allow me to do more to you and I’ve got 300 more competitions than you.”
An NCAA qualifier for Old Dominion and Arizona State, Edwards has seen the heights of collegiate wrestling, but he’s got even bigger goals in MMA. So when you take his wrestling and punching power and add in a dose of training with some of the best fighters in the world under John Crouch at the MMA Lab, there is likely to be a lot more talk about “Tango” in the coming years. And that’s the way he likes it.
“I love the spotlight,” he laughs. “I don’t even like fighting in small venues. You don’t get the same kind of build-up, the hype isn’t the same and you don’t get as excited. When you put all the spotlights on and the camera and everybody’s there, the walkout, that’s stuff to live for. You don’t want to have this mundane, mediocre kind of venue with a hundred people and no one sees you. We don’t train and sweat and bleed all day for that. I want the big reward – I want the big money, the big spotlight, the big fights.”