The Big Interview: Fast talk, fast punching ... why Sheffield is home for the Cockney boxer who could rule the world

Sunny Edwards. Pictures: Dean Atkins
Sunny Edwards. Pictures: Dean Atkins
0
Have your say

Mediterranean Marbella or dreary Darnall? There was never any question for Sunny Edwards. He was on the first plane back to Sheffield.

He was 20, a newly-turned pro boxer, unbeaten and loving life in the Southern Spanish coastal resort where he’d been living and training for the last six months.

Then boxing changed its rules. Professional fighters were suddenly allowed to work with amateur coaches.

Grant Smith had guided the latter part of a stellar amateur career which had earned London-born Edwards six national titles and England and Great Britain call-ups. Smith’s Steel City Gym was in Darnall.

The Costa Del Sol Cockney headed for S9 and his true home.

That was two years ago. Edwards - Sunny ‘Showtime’ Edwards - is now the holder of the WBO European super-flyweight title. He’s still in Darnall. Still unbeaten. Seven fights, seven wins.

“My older brother, Charlie, who’s also a boxer, was in Marbella training so I went out there as well,” he says.

“The Marbella lifestyle was wicked. It wasn’t even the nights out or anything like that - in six months, I went on only two or three nights out - but the weather was lovely and the people were nice.”

“Me and my coach, who was my brother’s coach, didn’t really gel out there. I wasn’t getting the amount of time I thought I deserved. When there was a chance to come back and work with Grant, it was a no-brainer.”

We’re chatting in an office at the gym in Darnall Road. Edwards, in a maroon hoodie, jogging bottoms and baseball cap, had bounced through the door at 3.33pm for our 3.30pm appointment.

Smith is a hard character and isn’t standing for such tardiness. Edwards takes it in his stride and gives him a bit back. Neither man scares easily. They trade verbal blows but the warmth between them is apparent.

There’s nothing in Edwards’ appearance to suggest he is one of the sport’s hottest prospects. At some point, he sheds the cap and, with his side-parting, big eyes, open face and toothy grin, he looks more like a choirboy than a fighter.

However, more than one person has told me he’ll be a household name in the next three years.

“What’s the goal?” he says in an educated London accent. “If you sat down a confident boxer and they told you they wanted to be anything but a world champion, then they’re in the wrong sport.

“I’ve been a paid sparring partner for a world champion (Croatia’s Artem Dalakian) and was giving him good, hard spars. I have to be number one. Number two doesn’t mean anything to me. Getting up for a fight gives me goosebumps.”

Edwards is self-aware, intelligent, cocky but not arrogant, speaking with the speed of his renowned footwork. It’s a standing joke at the gym that he’s never short of a few words.

He knows he’s good, but his cheekiness is endearing and his innate politeness speaks well of his upbringing in South London and grammar-school learning before he headed to South Yorkshire, partly for the Sheffield Hallam University sports-studies course he wanted, mainly for the chance to be coached by that breeder of champions, Smith.

“Hand on heart, I did no revision and got 13 GCSEs,” he says. “One A*, seven As, two Bs, two Cs.” The A* didn’t come in maths then!

Boxing commitments saw his second-year attendance at university slip to four per cent so he quit to go pro and, on his return from Marbella, stayed in an old care home converted into an affordable-rent property in Stannington.

“For £200 a month, I had two little rooms and a shared kitchen,” he recalls. “It was probably roughing it, but I’m so low maintenance I didn’t bat an eyelid at all.

“After my first year as a pro, I moved on to Prince of Wales Road. It’s a three-bedroom house. It’s a nice little place I’m renting. Obviously it’s not the greatest area in the world, but it’s perfect for me. I can walk to the gym.”

He shares the place with Charlie, 25, who has fought for a world title and joined Smith’s camp earlier this month, and gymmate and best pal Levi Kinsiona.

“The plan in the next 12 months, after the next tax year, is to get on the property ladder,” he continues. “Everything I earn is through boxing. I have sponsors. These keep me afloat. I’ve got a wage coming in each month. It means if I don’t box for a couple of months, I’ve still got all my bills covered.

“I’m 22 and I’ve been living independently since I was 18. Boxing has put me in a good place. After my next fight, that’s when I should start breaking through into the bigger money. Don’t get me wrong, (promoter) Frank Warren pays me well already. For someone my age, I’m doing well. I’m touted as a prospect by a lot of reputable people.”

Not bad for someone who has asthma and can breathe through only one nostril after breaking his nose playing football as a child.

Sunny is his real name, by the way. “Sunny James,” he says. “Sunny Jim.”

As for ‘Showtime’ ... “It’s always been that,” he reveals. “It stemmed from my brother. Every time I warmed up, he’d say: ‘It’s Showtime. It’s Sunny Showtime.’ I live for putting on a show, putting on a performance. That gives me the biggest buzz in the world.

“I’m quite elusive, quite spiteful. I love the whole showmanship. My hands are down, but I’m switched on.

“When I won my European title - it’s a stepping-stone title, it gives me a top-15 WBO world ranking at super-flyweight - I put the kid down. First time, no emotion. Second time, I look disappointed. I’m enjoying it that much I don’t want it to stop.”

He tells me he’s spiteful with such cherubic cheer that it makes me laugh out loud. His banter and smile will get him into a lot of trouble and out of most it. For very different reasons, girls and their mums will love him.

Charlie joins him on the settee and sits in on part of the interview. He’s heard it all before and pays his brother the sibling respect of soon falling asleep. Like Sunny, he’d taken part in a running session at 6.30am that morning.

The younger brother is outspoken, a self-confessed “wind-up merchant” who doesn’t care what people think of him, but a mark of his likeability is that his bouts attract a Spanish contingent. “I made some really good friends who fly over from Marbella to watch my fights,” he says. “Bar managers, bar owners, the owners of the gym, restaurant owners.”

Boxing is 90 per cent mental, 10 per cent physical, he reckons, and he came through his biggest test three years ago when mum Terry - long-seperated from his dad, Lawrence, and already suffering from breast cancer - was diagnosed with a brain tumour while he was bidding to win his first ABA crown in the senior ranks.

“I went down to London from uni one weekend,” he remembers. “My mum cooked a Sunday roast. She dropped me at the station. Everything was normal and fine. Two days later, I get a call from my sister, Nicola, as I got in from the gym.

“I can remember it as clear as day. It was about 8pm and my sister was bawling down the phone, saying: ‘I think you should come back. It’s really bad. Mum’s in hospital. It could be your last chance to say goodbye.’

“Mentally, I shouldn’t even have been in a place to box. I buried myself in the training. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but I almost forgot what was going on in London. I was checking in every day but I couldn’t allow it to affect my boxing. Potentially, at any time of the day leading up to the fights, I could have had a call saying: ‘Your mum’s not here.’”

Showing fighting qualities Edwards would admire, Terry was in hospital for nine months, endured three brain operations and is still around. And her son won his title.

The training can be brutal: two workouts a day Monday to Friday, with extras thrown in at weekends. But Edwards is between bouts and there is a hint of flesh on his face.

“Do you put weight on easily?”I enquire, and he grimaces as if he’s been hit by one of his own punches.

“I like my junk food, to be fair,” he admits. “I’m a normal person. I like the clubs. I like a dance, I like having a laugh. Never anything too hectic. Sheffield is my favourite place for a night out

Sheffield is his favourite place fullstop.

“I’ve still got my friends from growing up in London, but I spend my time with people up here,” he says. “Some of them are like brothers. Levi ... I go round to his house, bearing in mind he’s got nine brothers and three sisters, for Sunday dinners. It’s quite funny. I’m like the little white kid in a big black family, eating jerk chicken and whatnot.

“Grant’s mum and dad (Pauline and Brian), they treat me like family. They are family to me. Grant is my Sheffield dad, to be honest. We proper give each other stick. That’s what it’s like at this gym. It’s one of the reasons I love it. People get ripped into all the time.

“If you lose a fight, once the dust has settled after a couple of days, you’re getting ripped into. You’ve got to be fast coming back. If you haven’t got that, you won’t last a week in here. No-one has got a chip on their shoulder. Being in this gym removes any chips.

“Grant’s mum is a driving instructor and doing my driving lessons. When Brian wasn’t too well, me and Levi went round and spent all afternoon in their house. Cavann, Grant’s grandson, walked my belt into the ring in my last fight. It’s like a proper little family in this gym.

“I know 100 per cent that I’m not leaving Sheffield. My brother is already here and my mum and sister could move up next.”

His next fight is likely to be a grudge match. The opponent is yet to be announced, but he happily states: “There’s a hell of a lot of history and hate between us.”

It should be screened live on BT Sports and, aptly for someone whose driving test is coming up, Edwards says: “That will be when I start going through the gears.”

A world champion in three years. Remember where you read it first.

It’s Showtime. Sunny Showtime.

******************

WINNING AND LOSING

He can barely contemplate the thought of defeat, but the fighter with a perfect pro record would rather be a loser than turn his back on a challenge in a boxing ring.

Sunny Edwards has won all seven of his professional bouts and, at 22, is already WBO European champion in the 8 stone 3lb super-flyweight division.

Yet he says: “I would rather have a career of 30 wins and 15 losses, be in good fights and be recognised as someone who fought anyone, went up and down the weights, than have a protected unbeaten record.

“Losing, for me, is the end of the world, but boxing is a sport. In football, Barcelona can lose to Celtic in a Champions League match and then go and tonk Real Madrid 4-0.

“The fighter you are who steps into the ring is the exact same fighter who steps out. If you believe otherwise, then mentally you’re always going to fail.

“I went into the ring, lost an ABA final, and stepped out of the ring. I still told myself the next day I was the best fighter in the world.

“I’ve been on nights out, got back at six in the morning and gone sparring at 11am. I know that if I can do that mentally my body won’t give up on me.

“Your mind will give up before your body ever will. I look into the psychology of everything. I like that side of things.

“If you’re my weight, I’ll fight you. I’ll go in with anyone.”

**********

PRO RECORD

Date: September 2016.

Opponent: Sergey Tasimov.

Location: Spain.

Result: points win.

Date: October 2016.

Opponent: Brett Fidoe.

Location: Glasgow.

Result: points win.

Date: December 2016.

Opponent: Craig Derbyshire.

Location: Tolworth.

Result: points win.

Date: May 2017.

Opponent: Gyula Dodu.

Location: Hackney.

Result: technical knockout.

Date: July 2017.

Opponent: Joe Aguilar.

Location: Brentwood.

Result: points win.

Date: November 2017.

Opponent: Ross Murray.

Location: City of London.

Result: technical knockout.

Wins WBO European super-flyweight title.

Date: March 2018.

Opponent: Patrik Bartos.

Location: Brentwood.

Result: technical knockout.