ORLANDO, Fla. — Sunny Edwards just returned to his hotel from a morning at Walt Disney World, where he hopped on Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel, galavanted around the Magic Kingdom and soaked in the experience as a tourist.
Back at the Caribe Royale resort, he sits shirtless with a group of friends while having lunch near the pool. It’s late September, but the Central Florida sun is unrelenting. To Edwards, it was an invitation to grab a quick tan.
Edwards is in Florida for the first news conference promoting his title unification fight Saturday vs. Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez in Glendale, Ariz. (8 p.m. ET, DAZN). It’s a bout he’s waited for, and one that could change his trajectory greatly. Rodriguez is ESPN’s No. 1 fighter at the weight; the Englishman is one spot behind him.
Edwards (20-0, 4 KOs) believes he’s leveraged himself “into being one of the most talked about fighters right now.” He acknowledges that was made more difficult “without really having the dance partners that have had the marketability or wow star factor.”
And while the reserved Rodriguez’s personality certainly doesn’t fit that criteria, his fighting ability does. It’s the sort of opportunity the slick-boxing Edwards has clamored for — and earned — with his performances as a top fighter in the lower divisions.
“What I’m craving is positioning myself into the fight that really stops things for a little bit and people actually care about,” Edwards told ESPN. “They come out to watch it.
“They want to know what can happen before it gets on Twitter, before it gets to a highlight video. They want to be there. That’s what I want. Win, lose or draw; favorite, underdog; home or away. I generally just want to be involved in events that people care about.”
Now comes the catch: Edwards is all of 112 pounds packed into a 5-foot-3 frame (he’s around 130 pounds on this day). Yet the 27-year-old’s personality belies his diminutive size, a larger-than-life character who’s quick with his wit — and an insult — and just as unafraid to unleash it.
“It’s probably nothing less than what I deserve. If anything, what I’ve done in the ring, if you do what I’ve done in the ring … and you put that at any other weight apart from flyweight, I’m probably a superstar.”
Edwards isn’t just talk. He’s dazzled with his brilliant footwork and defense, often making opponents look silly through his five championship bouts and 20 overall fights.
It’s rare for stars to emerge from the flyweight division. After all, the combined fighting weight of Edwards and Rodriguez — a maximum of 224 pounds — is nearly 54 pounds less than heavyweight champion Tyson Fury tipped the scales in October for his win over Francis Ngannou.
And while Fury is England’s top star and one of the biggest in all of boxing, Edwards has a chance in his own right to become an attraction in the U.K. and beyond.
“I actually think American fight fans are really going to like him,” Edwards’ promoter, Eddie Hearn, told ESPN. “I think they’re going to like his cheekiness; they’re going to love his confidence.
“They might like him or hate him, but they’ll have an opinion on him, which is important. … He reminds me a little bit of a flyweight Tyson Fury.”
SUNNY’S OLDER BROTHER by three years, Charlie, was “getting a bit chubby” when he started secondary school in England, so he told their father he wanted to pick up boxing, according to Sunny.
For five months, Sunny watched Charlie train, but their father wouldn’t allow Sunny to join the fun. Then Sunny turned 9 and the sport was fair game. Edwards believes the kid he sparred was 10 or 11 — he isn’t quite sure — but he is certain that kid made him cry on Day 1.
“He just battered me,” Edwards recalled. ” … The trainer was a bit too old and thought I’d been going there for ages.”
That kid was maybe 20 pounds heavier. Edwards wanted to quit then and there, but he didn’t. Instead, he trained for three to four months, “doing all the little games.” He practiced his footwork, slipping and sliding.
“When he come back after the summer, he was even bigger than he was before,” Edwards said of the kid he first faced. “And I absolutely punched his head in. … I made him cry. It was like a mad feeling. It was like I’d overcome like a [video-game]boss even though it was only a 10-year-old.”
That confidence Edwards gained that day nearly 20 years ago? It’s greater than ever as he heads into the toughest fight of his career.
Edwards calls himself “Showtime,” an apt moniker for a fighter who likes to make opponents look silly with defensive wizardry and doesn’t mind taunting them in the process.
He became a champion in April 2021 when he dominated Moruti Mthalane, winning every round on one scorecard. Edwards went on to make four successful defenses — all via unanimous decision — but none of those bouts qualified as a remotely big event.
His first truly anticipated fight arrives Saturday against “Bam” Rodriguez, named last week as ESPN’s top fighter under the age of 25. Rodriguez, a 23-year-old southpaw pressure fighter from San Antonio, is quickly rising in the pound-for-pound list. He’s a -220 favorite, per ESPN BET, to defeat Edwards and add his IBF title to his collection.
But even this matchup — Edwards’ first in the U.S. — won’t fulfill his dream of fighting before a packed arena in an event fans won’t stop buzzing about.
If Edwards has his druthers, that bout will come next against a boxing legend. There were three names carved out in his deal with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, which Edwards signed in March: Rodriguez, Julio Cesar Martinez and Juan Francisco Estrada. Edwards said he’ll earn a career-high $400,000 on Saturday. But the name he truly wants next wasn’t part of that group.
“After I beat ‘Bam,’ I’m calling out ‘Chocolatito’ heavy,” Edwards said, referring to future Hall of Famer Roman Gonzalez, who competes one division north at 115 pounds. ” … He’s like a marquee [fight]. He’s the next level.”
Already, Gonzalez said on X that he’s picking Rodriguez to win, but if Edwards can pull off the victory, the Nicaraguan said he would fight him next. If Edwards can sweep the likes of “Bam” and “Chocolatito,” there’s little doubt he would enter free agency as a star.
But he believes a win “the right way” on Saturday vs. Rodriguez will lift him to that status anyway.
“His reactions are better, he punches harder, his hands are fast like that,” Edwards said. “Some people don’t think there’s any chance that I could win.”
When reminded how close the odds are in sportsbooks, Edwards replied that “they know not to bet against me because I just win. It would be stupid to look at my time spent in the boxing ring and think I’m an easy win just because I don’t punch very hard.”
EDWARDS ISN’T THE first person from his family to become a world champion. That would be big brother Charlie, who captured the WBC title at 112 pounds in December 2018 with a unanimous-decision victory over Cristofer Rosales.
Charlie Edwards made one successful defense before he suffered a knockout loss to Julio Cesar Martinez. That result was overturned to a no contest after it was ruled Martinez landed the finishing blow with Charlie already on one knee.
He vacated his title in October 2019 anyway to move up to 118 pounds, but inactivity followed. Charlie ended a two-and-a-half-year layoff in June with a victory at 122 pounds. And now, he’s in Arizona to cheer on his younger brother in his career-defining fight.
“Me and my brother have been battling it out ever since we was in the gym together [as kids]. We’ve been sparring partners for years,” said Charlie, who sparred with Sunny plenty in the lead-up to this bout. “We’ve always tried to outdo each other on everything we’ve done. Our father, he played us off one another to kind of get us [in] competition mode, battling it off and it’s caused our success.”
Sunny echoed that: “My dad, a bit of a mad man would always compare us.
“And when I was flying high and I was all on top at the time, Sunny was just hungry and determined to get his shot,” Charlie said. “Now he’s up there in the lights and where I was and doing what he’s doing. … And to get a unified champion in the family really is a proud moment for our family. And proud is an understatement.”
It was Charlie who signed with Matchroom at age 21 following a decorated amateur career. Eventually, Sunny surpassed his older brother as he dealt with promotional problems that led to the aforementioned inactivity. And it’s Sunny who will be fighting Saturday in a stateside main event with two titles on the line, the sort of opportunity big brother hasn’t landed yet.
Sunny said his ascension past Charlie led to their “worst relationship.”
“But if anything now, whatever feeling I would’ve got out of ‘Oh yeah, little brother’s on top,’ it’s way past now,” Sunny said. “And if anything, I’m annoyed. I am frustrated and disappointed in where my brother’s career is right now because he’s much better of a fighter than he’s known of right now. Much, much better.”
Charlie made headlines when he called out his brother for a boxing match, something the Klitschko brothers vowed to never do during their reign as heavyweight champions because they made a promise to their mother. Charlie said it was simply a “media ploy” that was never intended to turn into reality.
“And it worked very well,” Charlie said. “It went viral, it made Sunny’s signing with Matchroom go even bigger. And it brought great attention. But listen, we’re really close and we love each other dearly. I’d never say never, but I don’t think it will ever happen. It’s the hurt business.
“You can’t risk each other’s life in this kind of game. There’s more to life than glitz and glamor; fame and money. And if something was to ever go wrong in that ring, you’d have to live with that forevermore and it’s not something I’d be willing to do.”
WHEN EDWARDS AND “Bam” Rodriguez step through the ropes — all 224 pounds of them — there will be no such concerns.
Edwards will be fighting for what he believes is already owed to him, if only it weren’t for his size.
“It’s probably nothing less than what I deserve,” he said. “If anything, what I’ve done in the ring, if you do what I’ve done in the ring … and you put that at any other weight apart from flyweight, I’m probably a superstar.”
He said he trained three to four times a week — mostly sparring — for his most-recent bout, a unanimous-decision win over Andres Campos in June.
“I did more runs in three weeks after my camp getting ready for the Bam fight than I did the whole camp,” he said. ” … I’m too self-aware. When I know someone’s not on my level, I can’t prepare that well. It’s tough to get up. If anything, I’ll bring myself down a bit and now that’s making me come out a little bit more at hand.”
Edwards is sure this fight is his launchpad to superstardom, which is why he isn’t happy about his opponent in the lead-up. While Edwards is charismatic, outgoing and active on X – he’s frequently called Julio Cesar Martinez and trainer Eddy Reynoso drug cheats and even asked Claressa Shields for a date — Rodriguez is anything but.
He’s far more reserved, instead content to let his fists do the talking in the ring.
“I know what I’d be like if I was really not confident in a fight: probably a bit more reserved, probably trying to avoid things,” said Edwards. “Letting your manager write statements and stuff. Not want to come face-to-face. Eddie tried getting him over twice to the U.K. … They wanted to get him in the ring after I beat Campos. They wanted to get him to announce the fight on the [Anthony Joshua] card week (in August). Didn’t want to come over, didn’t want to come over, didn’t want to come over.”
“We’re two different people,” said Rodriguez, who like Edwards, saw his older brother win a title first. Bam’s brother, Joshua Franco, was a champion at 115 pounds before he retired earlier this year. “He shows his confidence running his mouth, I show mine in the ring. I never have my will broken, in my last fight I broke my jaw and kept going for six rounds, that shows the confidence I have in myself. I know that anyone that I get in the ring with, I am going to beat.
“Sunny is a great fighter, every fight of his I’ve seen he’s the one on the back foot, hitting and moving, hit and don’t get hit, but I feel like he hasn’t faced anyone like me, someone with good footwork and the determination to win.”
Rodriguez (18-0, 11 KOs) is ESPN’s No. 1 flyweight with Edwards one spot behind him. This bout is not only to determine supremacy at 112 pounds but also should signal who’s meant for far greater things in the lower weights.
Such as a dream bout with “Chocolatito” or Estrada, two all-time greats who could help Edwards of Rodriguez reach the next level.
And while they may not be heavyweights and carry the fanfare of boxing’s glamor division, they’re superb boxers themselves looking to accomplish goals shared by their far-larger counterparts.
That is, to prove they’re the superior fighter inside the ring and go on to claim even more riches in this most cruelest of sports.
“It’s a division that’s been historically littered with Mexican fighters or Asian fighters,” said Hearn. ” … You’re also blessed with the fact that one of the reasons you get so many great fights in this division, they do make less money than the bigger weights. So, you still have to pay them great money for the fights, but it’s not as much as you’d have to pay a middleweight or a lightweight or a heavyweight.”
Yet one more mold Edwards is looking to break as he continues to grab a tan poolside in Florida with visions of grandeur.