Jesse Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards: The Week That Was

Wednesday December 13

Kostya Tszyu may once have beaten Sharmba Mitchell in Glendale, Arizona, but there is little question that, by the standards of boxing in 2023, it represents, to use a cliche, a “boxing backwater”.

It may transform by the weekend, when the IBF and WBO flyweight title fight between Sunny Edwards and Jesse Rodriguez is near, but midweek it is sufficiently soulless that the shopping outlet that exists so close to the Desert Diamond Arena, where Rodriguez-Edwards will unfold, seems to capture one of the least evocative locations ProBox TV has ever had the misfortune of covering a fight.

The hotel most of those involved in the promotion are staying at is being refurbished, meaning that some of the facilities are closed and that there is the near-permanent noise of the use of drills. It’s little wonder the two main-event fighters refused to speak to anyone other than broadcasters DAZN – who they were obliged to speak to – and that Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, so recently seen at the Golden Boy Promotions offices in Los Angeles, didn’t yet appear to be in town.

His former fighter Charlie Edwards – Sunny’s older brother – regardless already was. He also told ProBox TV about how he and his brother had repaired their once-fractured relationship, about the “depression” he had had to overcome, and about his plans to “relaunch” his career in 2024 under his new trainer Stephen Smith. The younger and more celebrated of the Edwards brothers is widely, and in many respects rightly, recognised as a great talker, but it’s easy to forget that the elder of the two is capable of being equally open and honest, and again spoke like a fighter who following a testing period had truly rediscovered his drive. 

Thursday December 14

Tediously often fighters are guilty of confronting each other for the benefit of the cameras, ultimately to generate interest in their fight. 

It’s another symptom of boxing’s short-term culture – that that demands that those involved make the most of the present, regardless of the potential damage that may later have to be undone.

On Thursday in Glendale, Arizona, Eddie Hearn was again guilty of perpetuating that culture when a week after describing Regis Prograis-Devin Haney as “the fight of the year” – Prograis-Haney was another Matchroom promotion broadcast by DAZN – he gave the same description to Jesse Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards (apparently endlessly bullshitting actually works).

On a promotion on which there are numerous fights between English and American fighters, the clash of cultures between the relevant opponents can rarely have felt more pronounced. The straight-talking Peter McGrail, of Liverpool, eventually felt moved to tell the loud Ja’Rico O’Quinn, his Detroit-based opponent, to “shut the fuck up”, and was later told “Man, shut your dick-sucking ass up”. 

Junaid Bostan, of Rotherham, and Gordie Russ II – also from Detroit – then, and away from the cameras, started to fight and had to be broken up. Russ II aggressively invaded Bostan’s personal space, and Boston responded by taking him to the ground and them having to be broken up. There was nothing staged about it – everything was entirely instinctive, including Russ II aiming a punch at Grant Smith when he was among those attempting to break them up. Also in Glendale with Edwards, Bostan and Smith is Smith’s talented son Dalton, who was equally ready to fight to protect his family and friends. Until then Edwards had been laughing and cutting the most relaxed of figures. He was also similarly relaxed as soon as Russ II was led away. 

Asked if there was a risk of the incident putting the fight in jeopardy, Hearn told ProBox TV: “I don’t know if anyone was injured – I don’t believe so. They wouldn’t be stopping the fight. I saw enough of it to say it was lively, but without anything major. It was definitely lively. Junaid was like jumping back in. I was like, ‘Can you walk away now?’”

“He got in my face and then threatened me,” Bostan explained, also to ProBox TV. “I don’t take that lightly, and then he tried going for me, I dragged him to the floor, and it was a bit of a scuffle – people tried to separate us. He feinted like he was going to do something – I just put him on the floor. I didn’t punch him – I ain’t getting paid yet. It’s not like I’m not used to confrontation – I’m looking forward to Saturday night. I’m actually glad that happened – it’s good for the American audience to see who I am.

“I think he wants a way out, if I’m being very honest with you. His flight was yesterday – he missed it. He only just got a flight here today. His hand is forced in taking this fight. I think he’s looking for a way out, which is an explanation as to why he did what he did.”

Friday December 15

The fighters appearing on the Matchroom promotion at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday night all officially weighed in on Friday morning, and posed at a ceremonial weigh-in on Friday afternoon.

A tense and lengthy face-off unfolded between Junaid Bostan and Gordie Russ II – they had to be separated at the final press conference on Thursday afternoon. When ProBox TV asked Bostan if there had been another confrontation earlier on Friday, he replied that they had weighed in “with a lot of security”.

Late on Thursday the respected Barry Jones arrived in Glendale for Jesse Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards – which he revealed was, alongside Errol Spence-Terence Crawford, one of the two fights he not only most wanted to be made in 2023, but one of the two he was the most determined to attend.

There remains the risk that ceremonial weigh-ins present an advantage to the naturally bigger, stronger fighter – in this case Rodriguez – and Jones told ProBox TV: “It’s 36-plus hours of rehydrating. If he’s reduced that weight gradually in camp, even though he looks very tight at the weight, that rehydration then – if they do it sensibly, over 30-plus hours, gives him a physical advantage. But Sunny Edwards is not a fighter who uses strength to win a fight; he doesn’t need to be the bigger fighter, he needs to be the faster fighter and the cleverer fighter. If he can be that, then the weight advantage won’t have any profit. But if ‘Bam’ can get close and be physical and give that presence, of putting Sunny under pressure, then that weight tells.

“Sunny won’t care about the weight. He’s a guy who believes in himself so much – and it borders on arrogance, and that’s what you need to be at the top level. You have to have that air of arrogance. Top-class fighters never believe they can be beaten by anybody. It’s delusional in many ways but you have to believe that way, and he has it in him.”

The rules in place in Arizona mean that what’s referred to as “stacked” hand wraps can be used by both fighters.

“That tape gets very wet; the bandages for your hands aren’t for your knuckles, they’re there to protect your hands from breaking,” said Jones, the retired WBO super featherweight champion. “If you allow that, when it starts to slip, that bandage then becomes like plaster of Paris when it gets wet, so you’re going in there with a sledgehammer in your hands. [Rodriguez] is the bigger puncher. For Sonny, his brain has to be ahead of [his opponent’s] – with the stacking process, if he gets that extra bit of solidness in his shots, and that slows Sunny down, even a millisecond, then he’s not the same fighter, is he? It [potentially] gives ‘Bam’ Rodriguez a huge advantage.”

For all of the attention the IBF and WBO flyweight title fight is attracting, Matchroom proved unable to convince The Ring Magazine to put their title on the line.

“We believe this is number one and number two – that’s what The Ring Magazine belt’s there for,” Matchroom’s Frank Smith told ProBox TV. “[Julio Cesar] Martinez has been inactive, so there was the perfect opportunity for them to do it. We have been asking for a while – even when the fight was originally made, months ago.” 

Edwards and his 23-year-old opponent both tipped the scales at 111.6lbs. Rodriguez had arrived later than expected at the ceremonial weigh-in, and after they faced off for the final time, Edwards made sure that the crowd that was present at the same arena at which they will fight were aware that he was not the one who made them wait.

“We had to wait an hour and a half, whatever the time is now, so just to correct the narrative, I was here on time; ‘Bam’ was late,” the 27 year old said on stage, via the microphone, which he literally dropped the moment he finished speaking. “I wait for no man so I came back when he was here.” 

Saturday December 16

On the way into the Desert Diamond Arena on Saturday evening ProBox TV passed countless supporters of the San Francisco 49ers, who on Sunday were scheduled to play the Arizona Cardinals.

It was almost disheartening that so few – judging by the absence of the bright red 49ers shirts that made it so easy to identify them – had any interest in watching Jesse Rodriguez-Sunny Edwards, which represented one of the most appealing fights of 2023. 

Black curtains were in place in the arena to mask the upper tier and other empty seats, and while that will long remain the reality for fighters in the lighter weight divisions, when there were so many sports fans in town with a free evening and the capacity to host a bigger crowd there was little doubting that somewhere a trick had been missed.

It regardless didn’t prevent a fine atmosphere and the existence of tension in the air as the main event neared (Edwards was booed every time he was shown in his changing room; Rodriguez passionately cheered). 

By then, a video of Eddie Hearn had been played on several occasions, on which he spoke of the Matchroom-branded t-shirts that were going to be “shot” into the crowd, and that if someone succeeded in catching the t-shirt signed by him they would win a further prize that ProBox TV refused to stay zoned in for long enough to learn of. For reasons that remain unclear there was a disproportionate level of excitement at the prospect of catching even a non-signed t-shirt, but the Desert Diamond Arena is in a country that so recently voted to be its leader Donald Trump.

Edwards could again be seen, from his dressing room, when the pre-fight national anthems were being sung – in that moment it was difficult to think of another fighter more in love with his career and everything it entails.

It was similarly difficult to think of a more arrogant fighter when, with a record of 20-0, he walked to the ring to the theme tune to The Matrix, wearing a tracksuit emblazoned with “21-0”, and took his time revelling in the atmosphere and the occasion – and absorbing the energy he no doubt could feel. It’s a shame that by then David Diamante had introduced him as from Sheffield – Sheffield and Croydon, where Edwards is actually from, are no closer together than the world (which is spherical) is to having “four corners”, as Diamante repeatedly and tediously insists on saying. 

When Hearn and Galal Yafai – a likely future opponent for Edwards – were making their way from ringside after having watched Rodriguez produce one of the performances of the year, ProBox TV overheard Hearn, saying to his fighter, “Fair play to Sunny”, which just about captured what, after first admiring what they had just seen Rodriguez do, was on the minds of everyone else. He’d showed considerable courage to trade with a fighter he knew he ought not risk trading with, and then to continue fighting after the point had come when he knew he was almost certain to lose. 

After such a show of heart it is difficult not to question how much Rodriguez might have taken from him, physically – Edwards has already revealed he suffered a medial orbital fracture to his left eye. Even more relevant, regardless, may be the damage to his psyche. He had carried an air of invincibility like few active fighters, and he’ll never truly get that back.