When it mattered, Sunny Edwards shone on the big stage, picking the pocket of established champion Moruti Mthalane to clinch the IBF flyweight title at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, in a mesmeric performance on Friday evening.
Scores were 120-108, 118-111 and 115-113 in favour of the uber-slick South Londoner.
The fleet-footed Edwards was a predictable box of tricks, ghosting away from the seasoned South African and peppering him with a ready jab in a brisk start. Edwards quickly racked up the rounds as Mthalane struggled to come to grips with his elusive, fast and skilful challenger.
Edwards’ trainer Grant Smith astutely warned his man not to over extend his legs, assuming the sturdy Mthalane would gamble on a late surge and KO finish. Meanwhile, the South African’s respected coach Colin Nathan told his fighter to apply more educated pressure rather than maintain a fruitless charge in straight lines.
Mthalane (39-2, 26 KOs) slowly sparked into life, but he was far too late out of the blocks. Frustration creeped in for the champion, who was employing his forearm in the fifth and duly warned by referee Howard Foster. The challenger had apparently built up a healthy lead and Mthalane’s crown was swiftly slipping away.
Slick switch-hitter Edwards (15-0, 4 KOs) was in a groove with his artful movement and vitality, but Mthalane’s waves of pressure were belatedly closing in, just too slowly. He was locked in a desperate pursuit and belabouring Edwards to the body in the middle rounds but the South Londoner retained his laser focus under fire.
The challenger was feeling the effects of an escalating body assault in the ninth and starting to tire a bit, his legs sapped with weariness. With the pressure on, Edwards maintained his craft under duress with Mthalane clawing back some rounds late. But the South African was always second best and Edwards backed up years of confident talk with an elite performance when required. His boxing mastery was rightfully and richly rewarded.
“I knew it would be hard, he was very good at closing the gap down. I feel I deserved to win,” Edwards told BT Sport’s Steve Bunce afterwards. “It might not be pretty all the time, it might not be exciting all the time, but I am very, very hard to beat.
“I hit him hard enough to keep him off me, but my god did he make me work. My legs after the sixth round were tired like they never were before. After the sixth round, he came at me quick for the seventh and eighth, but I felt I was tying him up well, but I could hear him breathing, so I thought one or two more rounds at this pace and he is going to start flagging.
“His sharpness fell in the last three rounds, because in the mid-late rounds I was trying to counter and he was blocking everything.”
Belfast hero Michael Conlan was given a fierce examination of his credentials by Romanian dangerman Ionut Baluta winning a majority decision in a testing and ultimately close super-bantam 12-rounder. Scores were a too wide 117-112, 115-114 and 114-114.
The better quality shots, jab, schooling and insistent bodywork of Conlan (15-0, 8 KOs) won through but Baluta’s sheer volume, belief and bloody-minded awkwardness posed him plenty of problems. The visitor finished strongly but Conlan deserved to get over the line.
“He was tougher than I thought, as game as they come, but he was missing with a lot of punches. When they called it a draw, I was a bit worried,” WBO No.1 contender Conlan told BT Sport’s Steve Bunce afterwards.
“It was a good preparation for what was to come. It was my first 12-rounder, my first fight at super-bantamweight, so it was perfect test for where I am at.”
Darlington’s Troy Williamson (16-0-1, 12 KOs) rubber-stamped his claim for a shot at British 154lbs champion Ted Cheeseman with an emphatic sixth-round dismissal of previously unbeaten Kieran Smith in a final eliminator.
In the closing exchanges, Williamson pegged the Scot on the ropes before a series of thudding right hands put Smith (16-1, 7 KOs) down where referee Bob Williams waved it off. The quick-fisted Smith had seemingly sailed into a firm lead before the heavier hands of Williamson changed the narrative.
Main image: Queensberry Promotions.