CHARLIE EDWARDS’ climb to the summit of boxing has been fraught with danger. He’s taken risks but last December he completed his ascent and raised his arms to the sound of his name being announced as the new world champion.
The 26-year-old left the O2 Arena that night with the WBC flyweight title around his waist and a new legion of fans eagerly anticipating his next move. Edwards subsequently defended his belt in March, a straight-forward unanimous decision win over Angel Moreno, but on August 31 promises to be a whole different proposition.
Edwards will defend his most prized possession against his mandatory challenger, Julio Cesar Martinez Aguilar. The uncompromising Mexican earned his shot by dispatching Edwards’ former amateur rival, the highly touted Welshman Andrew Selby in five rounds and will have no qualms about travelling to London to take on Edwards.
But Charlie is used to being the underdog, even in his hometown. He lost in his ninth fight to John Riel Casimero for the IBF title and wasn’t expected to unseat Cristofer Rosales in December when he became the champion. Charlie told Boxing News that he is looking forward to showcasing his skillset on the undercard of Vasyl Lomachenko’s clash with Luke Campbell at the O2 Arena.
Edwards explained, “There’s just under two weeks to go now and I’m feeling great. You hear the old cliché but I’ve had an unbelievable camp and I’m in great shape. I’m an ultra-professional athlete and I always put my all into every training camp, so it’s inevitable that things are getting easier for me.
“I’m getting more experience and I’m doing things in the ring that I never thought I could. My trainer Grant Smith has put in loads of time and added lots of technical things to my game, working on my footwork, correcting little bits and pieces and that’s allowing me to punch harder, so everything seems to have come together at the right time.
“I’m looking forward to the chance to showcase that next Saturday night in front of the whole boxing world because they will all be tuning in, as Lomachenko, who’s one of the biggest draws in the sport will be fighting. Luke Campbell is also a great fighter, a former Olympian, so everyone involved in the sport will be watching and it will be the show of the year.
“So for me to be able to show my skills and ability, but also to show how far I have come in recent years and how much I have improved since becoming the world champion is going to be so satisfying.”
If Edwards is used to being the underdog, so is Martinez, who is 14-1, with 11 stoppages. He lost on his debut, but his win over Selby was a demonstration of his potential. The 24-year-old from Mexico City also holds a win over former light-flyweight champion Edgar Sosa, who he beat over eight rounds in 2017 and hasn’t fought since.
However, the idea of defending his belt against a dangerous fighter like Martinez doesn’t phase Edwards in the slightest and he is confident that he will put together a perfect performance as he aims to set up a potential unification fight later this year.
Edwards, whose record currently stands at 15-1, with six stoppages, maintains that he still trains as if he is challenging for the title and intends to give Martinez a boxing lesson he won’t forget at the O2.
He added: “Martinez is coming into this off the back of knocking out Selby, who of course was being billed as one of the next big stars, so I can go in there and put on a real show, a punch perfect performance in fact. It’s the latest step on the beautiful journey that I am on.
“I have only watched his fight with Selby once and that was at the beginning of camp just to engage my thoughts and I really think that he’s made for me. Grant dissects him and puts the game-plan together, so I just have to do the easy bit, which is turn up at the gym, 100% fit and focused, so that he can keep the cogs turning. I just have to listen and by fight night everything will be set and I will deliver.
“You have to expect that every fighter at this level will be a tough night. In essence this is his World Cup final, so he will be coming here to rip that belt away from me. But that is simply not going to happen. Becoming world champion has not made me soft. I haven’t sat back and eased my way through training camp under the impression that I’m number one and I’m untouchable.
“I train like the challenger everyday. That is my mentality. I’ve worked too hard for this and there isn’t a chance that I’m giving my world title up anytime soon, so on August 31, I have a chance to shine. He’s going to be tough, but he’s going to play into my hands and I’m looking forward to giving him a boxing lesson.”
Edwards has not only being training his body, but has spent time changing his mindset ahead of the Martinez challenge, as he looks to take his game to a new level. He is insistent that the new mindset has helped him grow each day as a fighter.
He admits that he wasn’t worried about the threat that Angel Moreno provided on March 23 and it showed as he breezed to victory, taking every round on all three judges’ scorecards in the process. It’s safe to say that he is not entering the fight with Martinez with a similar attitude. There were some discussions as to whether Edwards would target a unification in his next fight, most likely with IBF champion Moruti Mthalane. However those plans failed to come to fruition and he has instead settled for taking on his mandatory challenger, so there are no obstacles in the way of that potential unification later this year.
“There were talks with Mthalane, as we’re both under the same management team in MTK Global. Eddie Hearn put an offer to him, but he turned it down. I don’t know whether the offer was under what he wanted or he simply didn’t fancy it at the moment but I was told the offer was put to him. He’s got my full respect though. He’s undefeated in 10 years and beaten the likes of Zolani Tete and John Riel Casimero, so he’s proven that he is an elite level champion and he has the right to turn down things if they’re not right for him, so I wouldn’t bad mouth him or show him any disrespect,” Edwards said. “It’s just a case of the timings weren’t right for us to fight now and I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Just like I lost to Casimero, it happened at the right time in my career because now I’m at the top, I have that experience in my pocket that I can use to make sure my reign goes on for a long time. There have been no shortcuts taken. The fight with Mthalane will happen, but for the moment my full focus is on Martinez. Whatever happens after that will happen.”
Edwards is still hoping to create a legacy that stays with him once he does decide to call it a day. But he knows that will not be possible should he fall short and lose his title to the Mexican challenger.
For most fighters Martinez would not be at the top of the list for a voluntary defence, a fact that does not escape Edwards. “This fight is the sort of fight that plenty of other fighters would turn down. But I thrive off this sort of challenge. People have seen that firsthand when I jumped in for a world title fight after just nine fights. I perform at my best when I’m up against it and it’s where I really feel alive. I don’t get that same feeling when I’m up against someone that I know I can beat. This fight is one that gets me going. My focus and determination have gone to an extreme level,” he said. “I’m becoming a stronger person and I’m maturing into an elite world champion which I need to be. Mandatories are tough, especially when the opponent is as fiery as Martinez and is coming to win, not just make the numbers up. He hasn’t been handpicked and he has earned this position the hard way by upsetting Selby. This is the sort of fight you have to go through to build a legacy and my goal in this sport is to leave a mark on the lighter weights in this country, so this is an important step on the journey.”
Edwards did achieve his dream, but with the world title came the added pressures of change outside of the ring. He admits that he has taken time to adjust to his new status as a world champion. “My life has changed drastically since I became the world champion. It’s been a crazy journey but I have learned so much about myself along the way. My profile in the media has shot through the roof. You get spotted a lot and people are coming over and asking for pictures with me, which was weird to adjust too at first. You get a bit anxious and feel a bit on edge at first. People used to just look at you and think they recognised you, whereas now they come over to speak to you, which took me a bit of time to get used to,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more fans, which I’m grateful and appreciative of everyday, but it has been a struggle to keep up with everything on social media for example, which went bang overnight. The hardest thing has been learning that it is alright to say no. I’m a genuine, down to earth person, as I’ve come from nothing and like to give everyone my time but sometimes doing that means it’s harder to make time for yourself. I’m doing a public workout where I’m letting people come down to the gym. I’m usually very fan friendly in camp but this time around I’ve been so focused, I have neglected it as I’ve taken a step back to concentrate on the job at hand.
“Matchroom were only going to be doing a media day but I’ve requested that it is opened up to my fans in the city as I value every single one of them. The amount of love and positivity they have shown me, especially with my mum has been unbelievable, so that’s why I wanted to make sure I had a day off the schedule to thank them and to be able to give back. I’ll bring the belt down and sign whatever they want to show them some gratitude. My life was changed massively last year and too many people in similar positions in life forget to give back to the people that supported them from day one and that won’t be the case with me.
“There have been downs, like I have had to assess some things in my private life as becoming the world champion does take over your life, which means some things do fall apart. I’ve had to take stock and realise that I am on my own journey and I have to completely focus on my craft. I took all my life to get here and I’m not going to lose out due to too many distractions.
“So success is great, but when you get it you have to make some hard decisions and distance yourself from some people and become lonely in a way. But that’s the dedication you need to succeed, as you might only got one shot at this, so I have to focus on the eventual goal which is to become a multi-weight world champion.”
Part of the incredible Edwards story has been the relationship he has with his mother who has been battling a serious illness. The images from inside his changing room after winning the title were shown all over the world. She has been a source of inspiration for him every step of the way.
“My mum is great. She’s funny and makes me laugh. My sister was telling me that when she’s out and about people come up to her randomly and ask how she is, which is so lovely. She’s down south still and I only really get to FaceTime her when I’m in camp, but I think she feels proud that people are coming up to her and asking about her or us, as there is so much positive energy around her and it is only helping her,” he says. “I can only thank every single one of the British fans, in fact world boxing fans as it did go viral and I’m so grateful for all the positivity that has been sent her way, as it has been so uplifting for her. She came up to Sheffield last week with my sister and it was great for me to see her at the end of camp where sometimes it can get a bit tough.
“She’s happy and that’s the main thing. I have the pictures up in my house, which always gives me that extra boost if I need it. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and there is no bigger example of that than my mum, who has fought all the way. She is an amazing example and proof that if I’m ever struggling, I can get over any obstacle the way that she has.”
Although he is based up in Sheffield at Smith’s Steel City Gym, which is tucked away in a corner of the city, training camp usually remains a family affair for Edwards, who has the benefit of training alongside his brother Sunny.
Sunny, who was the first of the brothers to relocate to Sheffield, has been impressing in equal measure in recent months and making waves in a tricky super-flyweight division. However, for his next fight, he will move down to flyweight himself. “We have always said that we were going to be the Klitschkos of the lighter weights. People laughed the time but we are taking the right steps to do that. He’s moving down to flyweight and I do believe that he is already at world level and I spar with him a lot, especially now as we’re in camp at the same time. He’s a tricky operator and he is one of my nightmare people to spar,” Charlie said. “He’s the one person that I don’t like sparring with, as he’s so tricky. His reactions are so fast and so sharp, but I do think he’ll be at his best at flyweight. Since I became world champion, Sunny has completely upped his game and he’s even more determined than he was before, as that is what he wants to achieve himself.
“He looks in much better condition since he moved down, but he knows it’s going to be tough and he has to put the work in which he will, so he is ready to go up another level. It’s been so frustrating for him at times, as no British fighter is prepared to actually fight him, although I don’t blame them. I’m lucky that he’s my brother so I don’t have to fight him.”
Edwards isn’t afraid to claim he is the main man in the division and with all the backing he has, that fighters will be looking to face him. Unsurprisingly he is not in the business of turning back potential challengers and welcomes them all. “I’m the golden ticket in the flyweight division. I have the WBC belt, the green and gold, which let’s face it, is the one that everyone wants. I’ve got the backing of Eddie Hearn and Sky Sports, as well as being based in the UK, where the sport is growing. I know there is a lot of big money in Japan and Kosei Tanaka has a lot of money invested into him but I would say even then, I am the one holding all the cards,” he declared.
“But I have to keep hold of what I have to keep saying that and I will get the win next Saturday, then I’ll have a think and sit down and discuss what is next for me. I don’t just want a certain champion to unify against, I’ll take on any of them, as this is what I’m in the sport to do. I can’t look ahead though as I have a tough job next Saturday. After that I’m open to all offers.”