South Croydon boxer Sunny Edwards will step into the ring in east London tonight seeking to end the career of one of the hard old game’s toughest champions.
Edwards, 25, faces the experienced South African Moruti Mthalane for the IBF flyweight world title.
Edwards is unbeaten in 15 pro fights, but is reckoned to be the underdog against 38-year-old Mthalane, who has claimed 26 of his 39 wins by knock-out. The South African has not lost a contest in 13 years.
Edwards comes from a family of fighters, he and his brother, Charlie, having acquired a degree of local fame when their father, Larry, built a ring in the garden of their Beddington home so that the boys could spar and, literally, learn the ropes. Charlie Edwards, who was narrowly denied the chance to box for Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, won a professional flyweight world title himself two years ago.
It was when Sunny Edwards’ own Olympic dream was ended in 2016 – only one fighter per nation can be entered in the Games’ boxing tournament, and Edwards found himself second choice – that he decided to drop his university degree studies in Sheffield and turn pro.
It has been a long and often painful journey to a world title shot, from unprepossessing small hall venues such as the Tolworth Recreation Centre, long periods spent in training camps in Spain, through a series of belt-winning performances and even fighting through the agony of rupturing his Achilles’ tendon during one bout.
Edwards goes into tonight’s contest as the British super-flyweight champion and the winner of the IBF International and WBO Inter-Continental super-flyweight titles. But to get his chance at a world title, he has had to drop down in weight, to the 8-stone flyweight category, to take on Mthalane.
Boxing writer and BBC Radio pundit Steve Bunce has no illusions about how difficult is the task facing Edwards.
“Let’s get it right, this is a hard one,” Bunce said.
“Sunny is dependent on Moruti Mthalane being every bit of his 38 years of age. He needs a bit of age to have crept in and then he needs to box out of his skin.
“I want to get that out there so that if Sunny does an absolute job on him, let’s not imagine he was fighting a guy who was a champion that no one cared about.
“Mthalane is a dangerous, good, unbelievably experienced fighter.”
So that’s the context. If Edwards proves able to rip the world title belt from Mthalane, it could go down as one of the biggest upsets since another south Londoner, Lloyd Honeyghan, went to Atlantic City in 1986 and beat middleweight world champion Don Curry.
There’s no room for self-doubt for any boxer before a fight, and through the constant round of media interviews this week, Edwards made it clear that he has managed to prepare for this contest better than any before in his career.
This will be Mthalane’s 11th world title contest in a career which has spanned more than 20 years, and Edwards believes it is “sad” his rival has not enjoyed wider recognition for his achievements.
“Hopefully for me, this is the end of the road for him,” Edwards said.
“As sad as that is to say out loud, I want to win and convincingly enough that he maybe does question his future in the sport.
“That’s what I feel like I’m capable of and that’s what I want to do to a vet at this stage of his life. I want him to think after the sixth or seventh round, ‘What am I still doing this for?’
“I want him chasing shadows, getting frustrated and angry.
“He’s probably one loss away from retiring. Boxing’s not been great to him, it’s been stop-start, he’s been avoided. I want to make him ask all those questions during the fight, not after.
“I’ve said for a long time I’m a world-level fighter. I will learn very quickly on Friday if I am or not. It’s when the world is watching, in those 8oz gloves, it’s make-or-break, that’s when you know what you’re made of.
“I don’t think anyone has ever come to a press conference and said they have been really struggling or a camp has been hard. Every camp is hard, but it went as well as it could have gone. I have had a lot of notice for this fight and people know I have taken short-notice fights, hard title fights at four-and-a-half weeks’ notice and less than that.
“For this one, I have had 13 weeks where I have known the opponent, the scale of the fight and the event for a very, very long time. I have had the time to prepare meticulously, my trainer Grant has done a great job, as always, and the team is very strong. I am just looking forward to welcoming myself to the world scene on Friday night.
“It is good to be recognised as part of the top tier by just challenging for a world title and I will make my claim on Friday to join the handful of British world champions and one of the two Frank Warren promoted ones next to big Tyson. I will be where I feel I have deserved to be for a long, long time.”
There are so few world-class flyweight boxers around, even globally, that title opportunities, even worthwhile fights, are few and far between. Even for training, finding sparring partners of the right calibre can be difficult. Edwards has even sparred with Mthalane in the past, when there is a sense that the Londoner was taught a lot.
“I have seen him spar up close and logged enough upstairs to think when the time comes I would be able to take him,” Edwards said this week.
“That is no slight on him because he is a great, great world champion. He is a proper world champion.
“His most dangerous attribute is that heavy jab and I have to take that away from him. He’s constant pressure. It should be exciting because I will have to do everything in my power to keep him off for 12 rounds.
“I just wanted the best and he has been ranked No1 by Ring Magazine for a little bit now. That is what I want.
“Surely if you beat The Man, you become The Man? I am trying to be the best at the weight and, from being No1, I can then start looking down and pick off the other champions.
“I want to be at the top of the tree and recognised as such. I want to test myself and be known as one of those fighters who takes the best and hardest fights, the biggest fights that my name and platform will allow me to have.
“It’s my job to get him into the second half of the fight, be up on the cards and have him chasing me.”
Tough as the challenge facing Edwards could prove to be, if he manages to lift that world title belt above his head, it will mark a rare family achievement over more than 15 years, and will manage to prove his old dad right.
It has been a tough couple of years for the Edwardses, but as Sunny told BBC Radio this week, his father, Larry, long believed that his sons could both bestride the world.
“It would make our crazy dad right from what he was saying when I was 10 or 11 years old,” he said.
“He said in no uncertain terms we were the best two kids in the country. He was borderline delusional, arrogant and all the things in between.
“If we both become world champion we’d have made him right to a degree.”
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