And while those three have all received a substantial push from the promotion, the relatively unknown Tywan Claxton made his debut on the un-televised prelims of Bellator 186 last November to little fanfare.
At least until this happened:
It took Claxton all of 90 seconds to knock out Jonny Bonilla-Bowman with a flying knee, a spectacular finish that had Bellator matchmaker Mike Kogan dubbing him “Air” afterwards. It’s a nickname that the 25-year-old Claxton is running with:
The KO quickly went viral and Claxton now finds himself on a main card in just his second professional fight. He meets Jose Antonio Perez at Bellator 194 this Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Following his first Bellator win, Claxton was asked what his immediate plans were and he mentioned wanting to fight the highly touted Pico and Gallagher. Three months later, it appears that he’s moved past those callouts — and callouts in general — with the expectation that he’ll soon be the one at the front of the pack.
“They’ll be chasing me after this fight so I’m not chasing them at all,” Claxton told MMA Fighting. “The headline will be around me and they will all come begging to fight me and I’ll fight ‘em. But as far as asking for this guy or asking for that guy, those days are over.
“When they come down and they want to fight, then we’ll make it happen whenever the time comes. I’m always ready to fight, doesn’t matter who it is. If I get one of those guys in the first five fights that’s coming up, then great. If I don’t get one of them then it is what it is and we’ll go from there.”
Claxton’s immediate goal is to book five fights in 2018, perhaps making up for lost time given the two years he spent on the amateur circuit. Following two standout seasons wrestling at Ohio University (Claxton had transferred over from King University in Bristol, Tenn.), Claxton embarked on an MMA career, eventually making the move to Florida to train with the Blackzilians.
All in all, Claxton put together an 8-0 amateur record on the Ohio and Florida regional scenes. Now he’s made the move back up to the Midwest to join the Strong Style Training Center in Cleveland where he’s managed to settle into a groove after figuring out how to deal with the distractions that come from working close to home.
One thing that hasn’t changed for Claxton is his propensity for playing around in the gym and practicing the kinds of unorthodox techniques that he used to put away Bonilla-Bowman. It’s that freedom in training along with his in-cage experience pre-Bellator that Claxton feels puts him a step above his fellow prospects.
“I think the amateur experience for me was real valuable because you look at some of these wrestling prospects and they immediately want to wrestle or they’re timid with their hands or they’re sitting back and they’re waiting a little bit, and that’s ‘cause they don’t have the cage time,” Claxton said. “I have the cage time so I’m not timid with my hands. I’m comfortable in there. I’m calm, cool, collected. There’s nothing you’re gonna throw that’s going to scare me. I’ve been hit in fights. I’ve been knocked down. I’ve been completely dropped in my amateur fights, so I’m ready for whatever you’re gonna throw at me.
“And starting my career at a place like the Blackzilians were I trained with guys who did karate, taekwondo, guys from this country or that country, there’s not too many things that I’m gonna see that’s gonna scare me or make me nervous or things of that nature. So after seeing those things in training and then actually going out and getting into eight fights, I think that it kind of put me light years ahead of everybody else.”
Claxton sees himself recording another Knockout of the Year candidate in 2018, and it could happen this week given what he’s seen from Perez. If any opponent expects Claxton to be content point fighting, they could be sorely mistaken.
“I saw the last guy that he fought, the guy was a numbers guy, a pat-pat-pat guy and a lot of people mistake me for just being pat-pat-pat, but I hit really hard and I think that the first couple of punches I land he’s going to be like, ‘Holy s**t’,” Claxton said. “It’s going to be a rude awakening for him because he likes to sit there and bang, but you don’t want to bang with somebody who’s as fast as me. And I generate a lot of power at 145 so I’m gonna drop this big left hand on him and we gonna see if he’s gonna really stand there and bang or if he’s going to resort to running or some half-hearted takedowns.
“I don’t know what his game plan could be, it could be anything, but I’m not gonna sit there. I don’t throw punches to score. If I’m throwing something, it’s to hit you. It’s to hurt you.”