Tywan Claxton (4-0) will be opening up the main card of Bellator 221 this weekend. Sporting an undefeated record, the former two-time Division 1 national qualifier is a hot prospect in the featherweight division.
His opponent on Saturday will be James Bennett (4-1), who will be making his promotional debut. The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko caught up with Ohioan ahead of the bout.
The knee heard around the world
The 26-year-old burst onto the scene in his pro debut back in 2017. In his first outing to the Bellator cage, he landed a flying knee so jaw-dropping that it has cemented its place in MMA history. Of course, the KO was played over and over and still pops up when Claxton is being discussed in the media before his bouts. So what does Claxton think of what many would consider one of his finest moments in the cage thus far?
What's better than seeing @tclax149's beautiful flying knee?! – Seeing that beautiful flying knee in super slow motion!
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) August 14, 2018
“I wish they’d stop playing this sh*t,” he laughs.
“I think it was dope, it was cool, the first couple of months that it was out; seeing it on ESPN and all the different places made all the beatings I took with Blackzillians worth it, but that’s in the past for me now. I want to be known as more than a one trick pony.”
Having such a phenomenal debut didn’t really affect him much. Claxton admits it was nice to put it together under the big lights, but his confidence comes from his training and from working with the now-defunct Blackzillian team. It’s his coaching staff’s teachings and his ability to make in-fight adjustments that he believes makes him one of the most dangerous up and comers in Bellator.
“[In Bellator] you got good strikers, good grapplers, good jiu-jitsu practitioners, but I’m a good MMA Fighter.”
Building a brand
Being an MMA fighter means a lot of different things these days. It means, being able to, well, fight, but it also means building yourself into a brand and entertaining both in and out of the cage. Claxton understands this side of the game. He knows that in a sport that is being infiltrated by pro-wrestlers, former NFL stars and just general “loudmouths”, that he has to stand out and carve his own path.
“It’s kind of crazy because the market that I bring to MMA, no one else can bring. I’m a coder, I’m a software developer. So I focus on my brand and I focus on using my marketing degree to push myself and to push my sponsors.”
The impending featherweight tournament
With everything going right for him so far in his career, Claxton believes he’ll get an invite to the recently announced Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix. How do you not put the guy who was on ESPN for his flying knee KO in there? He’s also been open about wanting a fight with another young prospect in Aaron Pico in the past. Recently, though, Claxton has stopped chasing after that fight. Mainly because he thinks that Pico may be great one day, but doesn’t see him as much of a fighter currently.
“I think he’s a martial artist, but I don’t think he’s a fighter. I don’t think he’s ever been inside of a bar or fought anybody inside of a bar. I don’t think he’s ever been back up into a corner on the street and had to fight his way out of a back alley,” Claxton told John Hyon Ko.
“He may have some skills from organized fighting but as far as being a fighter where you had to fight through life, I don’t see it.”
The way Bellator structured their welterweight tournament, the champion was in it from the first round and the belt was on the line throughout. CEO Scott Coker said he would invite the featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to do the same. If the champ agrees, there’s a chance that Claxton could fight for the belt in the first round. A challenge he’s more than up for.
“That should be the headline for this interview: ‘Claxton wants Pitbull in the first round of the featherweight tournament’. I think my wrestling would overwhelm him. I think that he’s an emotional fighter and if you fight against me with emotion, I’m going to pick you apart.”
But before all that, the task at hand is James Bennett this Saturday. Opening up a card that features big names like Michael Chandler, Douglas Lima, and Jake Hager (a.k.a Jack Swagger) gives him a chance to shine at an event that’ll clearly draw international attention. With all eyes on Tywan Claxton, he expects to perform.
“I’m going to stop him [James Bennett]. I’m not looking to point him up or grab him and hold him; let’s fight. That’s my mindset. I’m going to show him and I’m going to show everyone else that I am on a different level; that I’m going to be in that tournament and I’m going to be the dark horse of it. That I’m somebody to watch out for.”