On a show dedicated to unearthing hidden gems, one lightweight prospect played his role to a tee.
While the latest episode of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series was headlined by women’s flyweight striker Antonina Shevchenko (the sister of UFC star Valentina Shevchenko), it was the lesser known Te Edwards who stole the show.
In the co-main event, Edwards fought Austin Tweedy, an opponent with almost twice as many fights as him, and he wasted no time in making a strong first impression on UFC president Dana White, and matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby.
It took Edwards all of 28 seconds to land a crushing blow on Tweedy and punch his way to the front of the line of UFC hopefuls that evening. Sure enough, when it came time for White to dole out contracts at the end of the show, it was Edwards and Shevchenko who became the newest members of the UFC roster.
Edwards improved his record to 6-1, with all of his wins coming by way of first-round knockout. Though he’s been competing professionally since 2013, it’s been difficult for him to find opponents given his Division I wrestling pedigree and the fact that he hails from Phoenix’s MMA Lab, one of the most well-known gyms in North America.
The Contender Series was the perfect platform for him to test himself against a quality opponent and gain some much-needed exposure.
“I used to think I was behind schedule compared to when I started fighting and how long it took to get here,” Edwards told MMA Fighting. “I know a lot of fighters that made the transition a little bit faster. I usually only got one or two fights per year. There’s a couple of years I didn’t get any fights just because it was hard to find local and regional matchups because guys saw the potential I had and they didn’t want to risk it. It’s kind of hard to find guys with under five fights that were gonna fight us. My management had an extremely hard time trying to find any matchups, so we usually fought guys with much more fights or in their hometown. I guess it gave me time to really develop and build my skills against higher level competition for when this opportunity came.
“I’ve been sparring and fighting with guys at the Lab that have been in the UFC for years, guys that are real hot prospects that we’ve got, so I’ve had plenty of time to really be comfortable once I got to this position and I think you could kind of see that when we got to this stage, that even though I only have half as many fights as most of these guys, I still put the hours in, I still put the time in. I think we were ready for sure.”
Edwards has been involved in competitive combat sports since his days as an amateur wrestler. Following a stint at Arizona State, Edwards needed “a change of environment” as distractions piled up around him and his focus wavered. He transferred to Old Dominion back in his home state of Virginia for his senior year, but later returned to Arizona.
The MMA bug had bitten Edwards and he wanted to follow in the footsteps of ASU alumni Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson, former wrestlers who were making a name for themselves in the UFC while Edwards was in school. When his turn came, he showed plenty of promise early on, so much so that he became the man nobody wanted to fight.
He became a victim of his own success, and with a child to raise, it wasn’t an easy decision for Edwards to stick with MMA fight after fight fall through due to opponent withdrawals. Now that he’s in the UFC, Edwards is grateful that matchmaking is one headache he won’t have to worry about.
“There was a couple of years and times where I was thinking about hanging it up just because I’ve got a son to feed and I gotta make money and pay bills, I’m not one of these 19, 20-year-old kids who can live at the fight house or stay on their friend’s couch,” said Edwards. “I’m an adult so it’s hard to keep waiting around for short-notice fights or local fights that pay a couple of hundred bucks. I just didn’t have that luxury to wait around much longer and I was doing everything I could to be ready and try to get these fights. Guys just didn’t want the matchup.
“So now that we’re solidified and we’ve got at least four fights in the UFC, I can really dedicate and focus my time to just being that much better and really pursuing the sport the way I wanted to.”
His two-year-old son Jace is a constant presence in his life, spending time with Edwards at the gym and providing inspiration when the time comes for dad to perform. Jace is old enough to tell the difference between winning and losing, and he welcomed Edwards with an enthusiastic, “Daddy won, my daddy won!” after his father’s highlight-reel KO.
Things only get more difficult for Edwards from here as he enters the UFC’s loaded lightweight division. He knows it will be a difficult climb to the top, but as long as he gets matchups that play to his aggressive style — and picks up a few more explosive finishes along the way — Edwards is confident that the rest will take care of itself.
“I’m in it to entertain the fans,” said Edwards. “I’m in it to have fun. So the more opportunities that I get to put on a good show and some good fights and increase my chances of getting some Fight of the Night bonuses and being remembered, that’s what I’m interested in.”