Tommy Edwards picked up Muay Thai about seven years ago to shed some extra pounds.
What he didn't expect was finding another career in the process.
Somewhere between dropping nearly half of his body weight — going from a hefty 310 pounds to a trim 170 pounds — Edwards, 27, developed a passion for the mixed martial art. With a 2-4 amateur record, the former Yorktown High School football player is looking at his professional debut in Thailand next April.
Wearing his lucky shorts Thursday and drenched in sweat, Edwards sparred for several rounds with Seth Batbayar inside the Alexandria MMA gym. The two went back and forth exchanging hits, kicks and the occasional headlock. Friends for three months, the former offensive and defensive lineman never looked at Batbayar as his buddy while in action.
The smiles only came when a bell signaled the end of another round of sparring.
“My mom just doesn’t pay attention,” Edwards said. “When I told her this is what I was doing, she said she didn’t want me to do it. My dad comes out and he didn’t know I could do this.”
But Muay Thai — a combat sport from Thailand that uses stand-up striking and various clinching techniques — only rivals Edwards' love for cooking.
Edwards said he has been in the kitchen since he was a child, cooking with his mother, who is of Puerto Rican descent. For the last two years, he has served as the lead line cook at Pizzeria Orso in Falls Church. Preparing meals for others and adding his touch serves as an artistic outlet, he said.
When Chef Will Artley arrived in February, he was told he and Edwards may not get along but the two have proved the naysayers wrong. Artley allows Edwards time off to train for his fights while working on his craft in the kitchen. Teaching Edwards how to prepare various meals that could land him a job at just about any restaurant is something Artley says he likes about their relationship.
“Sometimes he comes in limping or with a gash on his face,” said Artley. “He doesn’t have to be the best cook because he wants to learn.”
And lately, Edwards has picked up the art of teaching others as well.
Though they’ve only sparred together for three months, Batbayar said he has learned a lot from Edwards. With an extensive martial arts background, Batbayar, 23, of Alexandria, said he is new to Muay Thai. He said Edwards has taught him a lot about being good in the clinch; Batbayar said he is eyeing his first amateur bout in November.
“He doesn’t hit me hard but you learn a lot,” Batbayar said. “A lot of guys try to use you as a punching bag. Tommy tries to teach you what he knows.”
With his goal of using mixed martial arts to lose weight accomplished, Edwards said he isn’t looking to hang it up just yet: The Arlington native who now calls Alexandria home says now he can’t imagine life without either of his passions. He’s looking forward to his professional debut and has found a balance that keeps him motivated to excel in both arenas.
Though with a laundry list of injuries that include a broken rib and toes, a cracked orbital and a twice broken nose, Edwards said, he gets hurt more fighting than cooking.
“I figured, if I’m going to do it, I might as well see how far I can go in the ring,” Edwards said. “My addictive personality keeps me coming back.”