HE doesn’t hit hard enough. He doesn’t have the style for it. Over-confident, under-prepared. Sunny Edwards has heard plenty of these criticisms before. But, after 15 professional fights, against Moruti Mthalane on Friday (April 30) at York Hall in Bethnal Green Edwards intends to prove himself a world-level fighter.
“I believe in myself. I will be a world champion,” Edwards tells Boxing News. “I’m next to impossible to beat when I’m fully switched on. I genuinely believe that. I’m clearly a very hard fighter to knock out… No one’s ever come close.
“This is the last box to check. I get no satisfaction from proving people wrong because their opinions mean next to nothing to me. It’s about proving it on this night. I’ve got one fight to win seven rounds and then everything I’ve been doing, everything I’ve been saying will get validated.”
At 38 years old Mthalane is a veteran but a dangerous one. The South African boasts a 39-2 (26) record. He won the IBF flyweight title again in 2018 with a good win over Muhammad Waseem. Mthalane defended it most recently in 2019 stopping Akira Yaegashi in Yokohama. He hasn’t lost since a 2008 bout with Nonito Donaire and over the years has beaten Zolani Tete, John Riel Casimero amongst many others. He is a serious operator, whose recent world championship reign has been conducted entirely on away soil. He has been fighting and winning on his opponents’ home turf.
“He’s probably the most criminally underrated world champion in boxing at the moment, if you think about it. The man boasts a tremendous record. When you really dissect it further he’s got some great, great wins. He’s heavily avoided,” Sunny insisted. “The lack of unification fights just shows that the other champions are in no rush to get in the ring with him at any time. It is quite bizarre.
“He’s always beating all these fighters in their own back gardens. Most of his world title fights are away from home and he still always does the job. Really he’s getting in the rings rounds down in all these places and he still always does the job.
“He’s a very good, humble, experienced man.”
From a tight guard Mthalane can jab precisely and fire through hurtful combinations. He will undoubtedly look to walk down and pound the younger Edwards into submission. But Sunny is exceedingly hard to pin down. He can move easily, darting from side to side, and has shown, albeit at a lower level, that he can outbox tough men who come forward throughout a 10 or 12 rounder.
“I see it going one of two ways. I outpoint him, outscore him, keep him at distance. Obviously I have to come for a few little moments but that will be me winning on points. Or he chins me and cleans me out,” Edwards said. “I don’t see him outscoring me. I don’t see it. He’s a very, very good fighter. He’ll be trying to break me down.”
But, despite his boyish features and slight physique, Sunny warns Mthalane not to underestimate his own toughness. “People really underestimate me. They look at me and they draw their own conclusions,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of fight in me, more than people really give me credit for.
“There’s just no quit. I know once my adrenalin kicks in, it’s like a super drug and it takes over and I’ll be fine during that time. I’ve snapped ligaments in my ankle and boxed another eight and a half rounds.”
“I’ve taken short notice fights, I’ve taken fights with hand injuries, ankle injuries,” he continued. “People underestimate how little quit I have in me, probably to my detriment to some degree.”
Edwards has come through with points wins over Rosendo Hugo Guarneros, Marcel Braithwaite and Thomas Essomba in his last three fights. But if the names on his own record cannot compare to Mthalane’s, Sunny maintains he has taken the hardest bouts available to him. “I have literally turned down zero opportunities,” Edwards said. “People don’t give me credit for the fights I’ve taken but I know they’re hard.
“When I’m getting offered three opponents, I could go back through my negotiations, I’ve always picked the hardest one, the highest ranked opponent, best record, best wins, that would be more of threat. That’s genuinely because that is my mentality.”
“I’ve had the British title for over a year now and there’s not been one circular come round with any information about someone willing to fight Sunny Edwards,” he explained. “The proof’s in the pudding. The only other person [avoided] like me is Andrew Selby.
“I’m not saying [fighters are] scared of me hurting them. But they’re scared of getting embarrassed. They wouldn’t mind getting embarrassed for a world title and getting a good purse for it.”
But he believes that approach to his career has brought him to this title shot. “I have managed to leapfrog over pretty much everyone else in the division just by me saying I’ll fight him and them saying no,” Sunny said. “That’s what a lot of fighters don’t realise. If you’re the one that’s willing to take opportunities you pretty much beat people in the business side of things without even having to fight them. That’s how I’ve managed to manouvre myself.
“Only 15 fights and I’m headlining BT,” he added. “And I’m a flyweight! You don’t see that too often and I’ve had to do that all myself really, just taking opportunities. When people think I’m banging on about how good I am, it’s not that at all. It’s that I know I’ve done everything in my power to get where I am. No one’s given me the easy way. They haven’t. They just physically couldn’t ignore what I was doing.
“Certain of us flyweights, super-flyweights, bantamweights, we do attract just as many eyes as all the other weights but the way the business is set up we don’t get the just desserts. As many people tune into our fights as tune into a heavyweight fight but just because they’re heavyweights they get paid 10 times more. No, I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to change that. That’s why I wish nothing but the best for all my rivals. All the other fighters out there, people think I sit there and pray on their downfall, I don’t. I’ll comment on it, just because they comment on everything I do but I don’t pray for it because in order for me really to have a big career I need dancing partners all the way through.”
He has big ambitions, but to realise them he must win this title fight. Edwards only fought once in 2020 but he had a good 12 rounds with Essomba, a result that looks better too after Essomba’s sterling effort in a technical draw with Thomas Patrick Ward three divisions higher at super-bantamweight. He is a difficult style match up for Mthalane, especially as the South African was unable to box in 2020. As he sheds ring rust, Edwards will pick up rounds. Sunny could well take an early lead and Mthalane will find himself chasing the young Briton and chasing the fight. That is the position Edwards wants him in. Sunny is a hard man to catch. He can prove that against Mthalane and win a points decision and the IBF flyweight title.
“I think I’ve kind of perfected my own little unique style,” Edwards said. “It’s a style that people find very hard to prepare for because how do you get the sparring for someone like me? I box in a different rhythm to everyone else. I’m constantly outworking you, I’m constantly pushing a shot out every three to five seconds, I’m constantly elusive but I’m not running. I’m one step away from you but constantly one step, one step, one step. It’s like a dance more than a fight with me sometimes.
“I’m mentally draining them, they’re going to start holding their feet because they have to knock me out because they’re six rounds down and I’m just in and out.”
“You drain the soul out of them,” he continued. “I bring my IQ into the ring with me. The cleverest thing to do is not give them the opportunity to hurt you. I probably hit harder than a lot of people give me credit for [but] I’m not giving you the opportunity to win.
“I do everything I need to win. Everything, probability and percentages, I’m taking everything into account. I know how dangerous, when you get to the top level, these fights are and right to the last round they’re dangerous. I’m never going to give someone a chance to equalise just because I got carried away. How many times have we seen that happen?”
Sunny insists it’s his reactions that set him apart. “When I’m fighting I’m a reaction fighter, I deal with what’s in front of me every single time,” Edwards said. “My reactions are very, very good. My split second reactions, picking up on little triggers and movements, that’s where I excel, I believe.
“I’ve got things that you can’t see. Things that you can’t look at to measure.
“I guarantee there’s not anyone like me that’s been in the ring with him. I can guarantee that.”
2020 was a difficult year for most boxers. But for Ionut Baluta it was the best year of his career. In his two fights he was the scourge of Irish boxers. The Spain-based Romanian shocked a former world champion, Portlaois-born T J Doheny with an eight-round points win in Dubai. He followed that up in September handing David Oliver Joyce, an Irish Olympian, a punishing stoppage loss inside three rounds. But another Irish Olympian, London 2012 bronze medallist Michael Conlan will expect to exact a measure of revenge when he boxes Baluta on Friday.
Conlan has impressed throughout his professional development. 14 fights in, he settled the score with his Rio 2016 nemesis Vladimir Nikitin in 2019 and last year dissected world title challenger Sofiane Takoucht with another composed performance. Conlan should take another win here and set himself up for a world title challenge later this year.
On the undercard Troy Williamson takes on unbeaten Scot Kieran Smith. Ryan Garner gets a run out and Levi Frankham, who picked amateur accolades as a junior, makes his professional debut.
The Verdict A real world level fight should test all of Sunny Edwards’ skill.