In this feature, I and two other MMA-Prospects.com writers will detail one top MMA prospect each. What we are detailing is prospects with five fights or less who are also 25-years-old or younger.
We are looking for the future of MMA, and we are giving you three prime candidates to be just that, here.
Christian Edwards (3-0), Bellator light heavyweight
It is always somewhat unusual when a prospect begins his professional journey on one of the world’s leading promotional stages. This is exactly what Christian Edwards (3-0) has done with one of the world’s top mixed martial arts promotions, Bellator. Edwards has won six straight fights, dating back to his undefeated amateur career.
A 6’5″ light heavyweight holding a sizable 79-inch reach, Edwards has height and length over much of the competition in the division. Just 21 years of age, Edwards has only been fighting professionally for just over a year as he made his debut back in July of 2019. Up until Edwards’ most recent fight, he had not left anything to the judges with all previous amateur and professional fights ending by way of stoppage, including two brutal KOs to kick off his pro career.
In his most recent bout, Edwards showcased his cardio and ability to withstand a full 15 minutes without getting the finish.
Edwards was a JacksonWink MMA scholarship recipient before making his professional debut. The light heavyweight has learned from some of the top minds in the sport under the JacksonWink MMA coaching staff, and by being a training partner of one of the best fighters the sport has ever seen, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
Edwards stylistically matches up to Jones in the sense of size, and although he sports a much smaller reach than his teammate, it is still one of the longer reaches in the division. He will next fight at Bellator 249 against Hamza Salim (5-3) on October 15.
Edwards spoke to MMA-Prospects as part of this article series.
“I fight because I was born with a natural liking to it, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Edwards told MMA-Prospects. “I love everything about this. My future is the Bellator light heavyweight world title and remaining undefeated for as long as possible. I really want to change my life with MMA, even more so than I already have.”
Sergio Pineiro, Contributor
DeAndre Anderson (4-0), King of the Cage featherweight
DeAndre Anderson (4-0) is a 24-year-old former Alabama high school football and wrestling standout who transitioned into MMA in 2016. The Hueytown native trains out of Cobra BJJ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
After a promising football career in high school, the 5’6″ Anderson acknowledged that he would have a hard time finding success at the next level due to his lack of size. As a result, he began intensifying his wrestling training with the aspirations of competing in mixed martial arts. He has since begun training in other disciplines and has found tremendous success thus far. At the high school wrestling level, he held a 152-15 record, a mark that earned him a spot on the Alabama National Team.
He made his amateur debut in May of 2016, scoring a 50-second rear-naked choke finish over Colt Jones. He went 4-1 in his remaining amateur bouts, with his only loss coming to recent UFC signee Drako Rodriguez. His last amateur fight took place in December 2017, after which he secured a $100,000 contract with top regional promotion King of the Cage and commenced his professional career a few months later.
His fighting style has developed in his past few fights, where he has shown that he can mix in his high-level wrestling with a greatly improved stand-up game. In order to improve this element of his game, Anderson has taken advantage of the opportunity to compete in other disciplines. He competed in a kickboxing match in July of 2018 in what was a highly controversial split-decision loss. He went on to avenge that loss with a last-second triangle choke in November of 2019 in an MMA fight. He has also competed in boxing, where he holds a 1-1 record.
Anderson continues to show growth fight to fight, and his willingness to compete in other disciplines shows a desire to perfect his craft. Anderson is a highly skilled wrestler who can mix it up on the feet and has a slick submission game.
Anderson shows that despite all the attention that is shown to fighters to UFC fighters, he believes having the time to perfect his craft before looking for those opportunities is key to long term success. Continuing to stay active in other disciplines and perfecting all areas of his games will ensure we see great things from DeAndre Anderson for years to come.
Speaking to MMA-Prospects, Anderson said, “I’m not trying to rush it. I’m young. I’m not going to be one of those guys that get in off a great performance on the Contender Series and then get cut. Once I’m in, I’m going to be in. I’m only leaving when I feel like leaving.
“If I can get tough fights on the regional circuit, that’s only going to build be when I get to the UFC or to Bellator.”
For more on Anderson, check out Pineiro’s September interview with the undefeated fighter here.
Clayton Carpenter (3-0), LFA flyweight
Clayton Carpenter (3-0) is 24-year-old fighting out of Pheonix, Arizona. The young flyweight trains out of a top camp in the MMA Lab under head coach John Crouch. He trains with the likes of Kyler Phillips, Sean O’Malley, Mario Bautista, and many more.
Carpenter has not only had success in MMA; he’s gotten some nice accomplishments in a bundle of disciplines. He was the USA junior National Muay Thai champion, a four-time Muay Thai National Champion, a junior Golden Gloves Boxing Champion, World junior Grappling and Pankration medalist, and an IBJJF World Champion in gi and no-gi.
Carpenter actually has a win over one of the sport’s biggest young superstars in Bellator star Aaron Pico, defeating the top prospect in a 2009 Pankration tournament. Both men would be a part of the USA Pankration team.
Before turning pro in August of 2019, he went 6-1 as an amateur, winning the Iron Boy flyweight title in the process. Now he sits at 3-0 as a pro and has a 100% finishing rate.
As expected with his experience across an array of sports, Carpenter puts it all together in MMA. He doesn’t do anything significantly better than the other, as he’s as well-rounded as they come for such a young fighter. Carpenter on the feet is a technical player, fighting behind forwards pressure and leg kicks being highlighted. He mixes it up perfectly, lunging forward with knees and strikes, and sits back, takes out the legs, and goes up top for the kill. Carpenter has some nice head movement, slipping his head right off the center line and coming back with combinations to make his opponents pay for their aggression.
With how much pressure he puts on early, his posture does slow a bit in the third, but he is still defensively exceptional, always moving his head and standing his ground. Hardly ever will you see this kid take a backstep.
Carpenter makes you think he is so comfortable striking and mixing it up, you might even forget about the takedown threat. Bad idea, as he will take you down in no time. Of what I’ve seen, when Carpenter shoots, he’s getting the takedown, and that’s because it’s set up behind strikes perfectly and the quickness in his shots is stellar.
Once he does get it down to the mat, he’s immediately passing guard and eventually getting into the mount. The transitions are smooth and although he has just one submission as a pro, he’s a threat at snatching that neck and can finish with an armbar, as well, doing it twice as an amateur. Stong top position with active ground and pound to eventually find an opening for a submission.
Carpenter is a jack of all trades that is oozing with talent. Training with a team like the MMA Lab will help him progress his career even more in the future.