Danny Flexen discovers how Sunny Edwards has distinguished himself from a celebrated sibling

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes but it’s home to me and I walk alone. While the writer did not have Sunny Edwards in mind when crafting those poignant, timeless lyrics – if for no other reason than the future fighter was just eight years old upon its 2004 release – the prevailing message speaks to a steely focus and sense of self-reliance the Croydon flyweight has long possessed. Factor in an admirable ability to compartmentalise, one beyond his tender years, and you have a young man apart. A small number of athletes – most of them operating at elite level – are able to exclude virtually every negative thought, worry or distraction and adopt a blinkered mindset that allows them to perform unhindered, to express themselves free from shackles. Only three fights into a promising pro career, Sunny Edwards undoubtedly has ‘it’, that singular focus, but how far it takes him is another matter entirely. Whatever his destiny, Edwards will fulfil it on his own terms. It is perhaps this mental strength that allows him to answer matter-of-factly when I request an update on the condition of his ailing mother.

“Yeah, she’s alright,” he says softly, perhaps not expecting the question. “I’ve just got back from her, now.”

Sunny’s mum was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and soon underwent an operation on her brain. After two years of tentative recovery, she fell into a coma two weeks ago and endured further surgery last week. Sunny returned from his Sheffield base to be by her side and his week in London saw the emotion of hospital visits offset by gruelling training drills at Adam Booth’s gym in preparation for his biggest night yet as a professional. The 21-year-old appears on Frank Warren’s May 20 Copper Box show, headlined by Liam Walsh’s challenge to IBF super-featherweight champion Gervonta Davis, and Booth, who coaches Sunny’s older brother, British super-flyweight titlist Charlie Edwards, was only too happy to help. Sunny found in the sweat and toil of sparring, if not quite solace then welcome distraction, pursuing a dream as his mum slept, each fighting, in heartbreakingly different ways, for an undefined future.

“She recently took a turn for the worse and it’s touch and go at the moment,” he explains, his voice even, the delivery characteristically measured. “The same thing happened before the ABAs two years ago, she was in a worse condition then, so we’ve been through the storm once before. Mental strength has always been quite a big asset to me. As soon as I’m away from it and in a boxing environment it gets put to the back of my mind quite quickly.

“My sister cares for her, during the day, as well as her partner. When I’m back from Sheffield I’m there all the time. We’re all pretty close.”
  
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None closer perhaps than Sunny and Charlie, just under three years apart in age and once companions on the same path, before reaching a crossroads and splitting along diverse routes. The pair, polar opposites in many ways, enjoyed success with the GB amateur squad but have always employed contrasting styles. Charlie was a fit, industrious operator who liked a tear-up, Sunny more the artistic type, circumnavigating the ring, hitting and not getting hit. They both turned professional under trainer Danny Vaughan and management group MTK out in Marbella but the similarities ended there. Sunny had already worked for two years with Grant Smith at Steel City ABC before the rule preventing amateurs and pros coexisting under the same coaches forced him abroad. When the archaic regulation was sensibly repealed, Sunny swiftly flew back to the man who had selflessly set him free.

“The same thing happened before the ABAs two years ago, she was in a worse condition then, so we’ve been through the storm once before. Mental strength has always been quite a big asset to me. As soon as I’m away from it and in a boxing environment it gets put to the back of my mind quite quickly” —Sunny Edwards

Gradually, this inclination to go his own way extended to the most recent deviation from his celebrated sibling, the decision to eschew Charlie’s market-leading promoters Matchroom for Frank Warren, the veteran recently revitalised by a landmark broadcast deal with BT Sport.

“For me personally, and I’m very realistic, if I was signed to Matchroom I’d probably be scrapping around for a live TV float more than anything,” Sunny says, candidly, having signed a longterm deal with the evergreen Warren in January. “Their broadcasts start at what, 7.30, 8pm, they show four or five fights and that’s it, and they put on less shows. With Warren, they televise all the fights on Boxnation from 5pm then BT takes over for the main card; I’m not a massive name so they are better for this stage of my career. Matchroom have got the four Olympians they just signed and they’ll be putting them on virtually every show, so that’s four slots taken up.

“MTK work a lot better with Warren. I’ve got a good relationship with Eddie [Hearn], with Frank Smith, Matchroom’s Head of Boxing, they understand it’s a business and they’re not gonna lose no sleep ‘coz Sunny Edwards didn’t sign for them. I told Eddie I was signing with MTK and to go through them. They didn’t tell me exactly why they held out, but the BT deal was looming, and that brought a lot more money for a little flyweight. It’s a very, very lucky position I’m in.

“What I like about Warren and [his close associate] Andy Ayling, they sort of let me have fun with it, supporting me, I’m calling these names out, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re promoting yourself, good, let’s get behind you,’ they’re talking very positively about me. When I think something’s right for me that’s what I gotta go for, I’d rather do that than the comfortable route. Warren works really well with foreign promoters and going forward, there will be more flexibility because of the number of shows.”

The now-established pattern of Sunny distinguishing himself from Charlie was first formed in their early lives, against an academic backdrop and, on occasion, to the younger man’s disadvantage.

“I think it just boils down to personality traits,” Sunny reflects. “Charlie wasn’t the best at school, I went to grammar school, I was top of my classes, I guess I thought I was a little smart a***. I was always quite outspoken, backchatty. I was always a bit lazy, trying to take the easier way out and I thought I knew best. If a trainer told me something I’d think about it three times, but he’d do it straight away.

“But he was always a massive influence, there was an expectation on me because my brother won championships, he had so much success, so when I didn’t it was pretty disheartening. It led to me quitting boxing for seven-eight months. Then I came back and won six national titles back to back. I always strove to achieve what he achieved, but he was on the GB squad by the time he was 15.” 

“Charlie wasn’t the best at school, I went to grammar school, I was top of my classes, I guess I thought I was a little smart a***. I was always quite outspoken, backchatty. I was always a bit lazy, trying to take the easier way out and I thought I knew best. If a trainer told me something I’d think about it three times, but he’d do it straight away.” —Sunny Edwards

Impossible shoes to fill but Sunny initially strove to do just that, following his talented role model into the same sport. He carved his own niche not by hiding from the inevitable comparisons but by turning them on their head, training far from home after starting a university degree in Yorkshire, then staying there after study was ultimately cast aside for passion. Signing with Matchroom and remaining in London would have been easy options for Sunny but, he decided, not conducive to his career, showing once more a level-headed approach and a determination to follow neither the crowd nor his brother. Instead, he became the prodigal son and committed only to Smith, the man who represents his platonic soulmate.

“I’d been away a couple of times for England with his son, Dalton Smith, and when I got an offer from Hallam I messaged Dalton because I wanted a really good gym,” Edwards reflects.

“When I first got to Steel City, I was really overweight, going on nights out, but I fell in love with it again. In my first year with Grant, he turned my style around. At Repton it was more about sparring, fitness and being confident. I have a trainer now, I really believe in what he teaches me, I buy into it. He was the first sort of trainer that I listened to anything he said. Trainers often let me do what I wanted. With Grant, in the first couple of months I hated it because everything I was doing was wrong, he was correcting so much. When we started clicking I saw it in how I was performing, and he’s one of those people, he treats me as his own son, especially living away from my family, I can call him up anytime. He’s obsessed with improving and with things that work, things that affect the high percentages of success. He’s not one of those closed-minded trainers stuck in their ways, it’s refreshing to have someone like that, each week in camp we’re working on different things. He puts in absolute shifts, he’s running with us at 6am before training.”

Edwards shares that all-consuming brand of dedication. He lives among strangers in modest, shared accommodation close to the gym and only sporadically sees girlfriend Aimee, who resides at Bournemouth University around 185 miles away. Perhaps Sunny inherited this single-minded drive from his father – who pushed both he and Charlie to fulfil their pugilistic potential – but equally it may have come from their mother who is slowly, but diligently, dictating her own fate.

“It’s a long way yet, but things are looking better,” he tells me a few days after the latest operation, referring to his mum’s journey but also, unwittingly, narrating his own. 

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