Tucked away from the rabble of London’s O2 Arena, the champion’s dressing room that particular Saturday evening felt flat, post fight.
The sweat was palpable, the belt remained intact – just – but the crazed battle cries that were heard during the ring walk had softened to discussions of what comes next. Those beady eyes that had stared down the lens of the television cameras almost grimaced, wondering if there was anything that could have been done differently.
Seated on the edge of one bench, attentive and honest, was the wronged fighter’s younger brother. He’d recently become a father himself and was only a fortnight from his own, important televised title contest. The balance between teamwork and boxing’s required isolation was hard managed, but the undefeated sibling believes he’s struck the balance.
Sunny Edwards (12-0, 4KOs) suffered criticism in the aftermath of his brother, Charlie’s disqualification victory over Mexican, Julio Cesar Martinez. Yet, in a sport often shrouded with ‘yes’ men or degraded by unfounded sparkle, sprinkled at will by promoters, through rose-tinted glasses, I found his honesty admirable. He wasn’t hiding or holding anything back – but he’d always been that way.
“I’ve said before, Charlie looked at that point in the fight to be up against it and I’d have been surprised if Charlie got through the round”, admitted Sunny. “Or if he got through another couple of rounds, at least, the kid had him in a world of trouble. But he let his emotions override his discipline and he threw it out the window. I feel like Martinez knew what he was doing, because he stopped throwing, adjusted his feet and then threw the shot really low.”
“I had an interview a couple of days after Charlie’s fight and I spoke my mind on it. I was honest. He called me a couple of days after and he just said that I was bang on. There was people out there saying, ‘Oh I wouldn’t want my brother or my stablemate speaking about me like that’. My brother knows – I’ll be honest, whether the camera is on me or not. I’m not doing it to please anybody else.”
That level of transparency doesn’t suit everyone, with Sunny’s detractors bemoaning his every statement. In truth, however, he was one of the game’s most astute thinkers. For a twenty-three year old prospect, he spoke about boxing with the knowledge and intricacy of a hardened veteran.
His bout this weekend signalled another notch in his belt, whilst acquiring another in the process. He tackles the little known Mexican, Rosendo Guarneros, on a bill stacked with domestic interests. Despite the relative insignificance of his opponent, Croydon’s ‘Showtime’ Edwards still finds himself headlining – an indication of promoter Frank Warren’s faith in his ability.
Sunny told me, “Every fight I’ve tried to make has never happened. I’ve more got to the stage now where I let the fights come to me. I’m not gonna let anyone delay my pro career by having me chase fights. I’m at the stage now where I’m on a good, stacked bill that not too many people are complaining about. I’m facing someone that no-one has ever heard of in this country – yet I’m headlining. That just shows where my career is at, you know?”
“I don’t need any of these domestic fighters. How many domestic fighters outside of my family can you say in the last twelve months has boxed live on TV five times, for titles, in my weight class? I don’t need no-one else. We dropped down to flyweight because it’s looking like I’m more likely to get a world title shot, but it is what it is.”
“All my opponents now get sent to my trainer, Grant, cos’ I was just saying yes to every single one, like when I had an opponent from Mexico. We had no footage, no stats, no heights, no reach, nothing at all to say yes to, other than his record, so Grant stepped in and said, ‘That’s just stupid’. I sort of got the hump a little bit and thought, if he gets the opponents sent to him then he can just decide. I think I’m one of the best fighters in the world, so any of these fighters shouldn’t be beating me.”
Edwards explained that he’d barely conducted any research on Guarneros, yet seemed entirely unphased. His elusive, evasive style had served him well thus far, picking punches safely, swiveling from range and escaping unscathed, for the most part. Moving through the gears, Sunny would have to fight tougher opponents – he knew that. But on Saturday, he was entirely focused on the twenty-eight year old from Durango.
Life in the past year has been plagued with moments of truth, from their mother’s illness to the birth of his first son, Chance. Together, the Edwards family had overcome their fair share of misfortune, but as the two siblings chase their dreams between the ropes, they were sharing the same gym, once again, outside of the ring.
Sunny had been working with Grant Smith of the Steel City Gym, Sheffield, since he had turned eighteen, but with Grant’s son Dalton, MTK Global’s Lee McGregor and, of course, Charlie Edwards, the stable had become one of the UK’s strongest. The current WBO European and International super-flyweight champion needn’t look much further for elite sparring, but detailed the bond shared between the fighters.
“When I was boxing for England, going away for trips and camps or whatever, Dalton [Smith] was more times than not in the squad. So, Grant was around then and when I found out that I wanted to go to Sheffield Hallam [University], I sort of spoke to them. His was the only gym that I’d spoke to in Sheffield and I’ve been there since.
“Everyone is ambitious. They want to achieve a certain level and one thing about our gym is, we are looking to take proper fights. We’re not looking to protect our records. We don’t want to pussyfoot around our boxing careers, which a lot of people do. We are a very young gym. Those names, Charlie is the eldest at twenty-six, I’m twenty-three, Dalton is twenty-three, Lee is twenty-three, do you know what I mean? All young fighters. Hopefully with long careers ahead of us.”
“The gym is buzzing! Potentially, iron sharpens iron. You’re involved with them during fight week and you get exposed to more experience. Even being with my brother during this fight week, you see what it’s like. It’s all experience. Obviously we have very good in-house sparring, all at a similar weight. It’s good to see all the boys and they’re not just boxers – they’re friends. Hence any time Lee is fighting, you’ll see me in Scotland or when Charlie is fighting, all the boys are down in London for him. We go all over for each other, it’s like a family.”
The long list of proposed opponents may have changed, but it’s an addition far closer to home that has forced Sunny to consider the importance of his career. Notoriously short careers and financial instability have troubled fighters of years gone by, but since the birth of the youngest member of the Edwards clan, he’s determined to remain open minded, looking into a potential future in coaching, as well as managing fighters of the future.
One glimpse at his various social media profiles reveal a love far deeper than the one he shares with boxing. Proudly holding up his son, enjoying the sunshine or carrying out every day activities, Edwards is now fighting for more than just pride and prizes.
Thankfully, his young son’s mother has been understanding, allowing him to focus on training during the week before handing over the parental reigns each weekend. Still, it was trainer Grant Smith that had noticed the changes in Sunny before the fighter had spotted them himself.
“I think it put a lot of urgency on things that I need to get in my life. It has probably focused me a lot more. I never noticed a difference too much myself, but I spoke with Grant as recently as the other day and he even mentioned it in the thing he did with BT Sport’s, for No Filter. Just lifestyle changes, the life I’m living, my diet, my training is more focused and what I do with my finances. There’s a lot of change.
“It has just focused me that little bit more and before he came along, if I had a problem with boxing, it was just me myself that had to figure it out. Whereas now, this is an opportunity to provide for me and my baby. Apart from a little bit of sleep on a Saturday night, or out of camp having no more nights out, not much else has changed.”
Father, fighter, friend and family, Sunny Edwards walks towards another almost fictitious challenger this weekend. The punches that scarcely land seem to carry more weight now, blessed by the arrival of the next generation. His Mexican opponent, much like his elder brother’s, is an unknown quantity.
The smaller men embroiled in boxing’s complex addiction often went cold turkey from an earlier age. But not Sunny. He wanted to feed the habit, transitioning from competitor to background influencer, seamlessly. For now, he was approaching world titles, but that abbraisive, entitled young man often portrayed online couldn’t be further from truth.
Although not quite proven yet, in his own right, Edwards appeared an intellectual, gifted with an understanding of a sport often bereft of its own blueprint.
“I believe if I get a big enough name through my career then I can help fighters and steer them in the right direction. Yeah – I just wanna be involved. I love boxing. I love the entertainment of it. It’s not just a job that I wanna make money from and get out, I just love it.
“Do you know what? If I’m honest, I’m very consistent. I’m very light-hearted, I’m tongue-in-cheek, I’m cheeky… I think a lot of people take social media and those things too seriously. There’s nothing someone can say to me that will affect me too seriously. It takes a lot to set me off. I guess I’m just quite chilled out. Life is too hard to take things too seriously and as long as people around me like the person I am, then that’s all that matters to me.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209