Boxing is in a strange place as we prepare for 2023 to tick over into 2024. The most-watched pay-per-view of the years saw YouTuber KSI lose a hotly-disputed decision to Tommy ‘TNT’ Fury, the half-brother of WBC heavyweight champion Tyson. The elder Fury was knocked down in a narrow points win over Francis Ngannou, the UFC fighter-turned-boxer who was making his pro debut. Earlier this month, Scot England broke the Guinness World Record for oldest boxer to make a pro debut. Quite whether that should have been encouraged considering the 59-year-old was stopped in one round is a matter for another day. But it is safe to say that the sport is in a confused and confusing state as we close out the year.
All of which makes the sight of Sunny Edwards vs Jesse Rodriguez a sight for sore eyes on the upcoming fight schedule. A world title unification bout between two genuinely elite level, unbeaten boxers and not a YouTuber or pensioner in sight. Remember when this is what boxing was like?
While Edwards does love a social media row, he remains more notable for what he does with his fists than his keyboard. The outspoken ‘Showtime’ is belatedly getting the audience and plaudits that his skills deserve. A world champion since beating Moruti Mthalane for the IBF strap in 2019, he had been made to toil on obscure shows and various television networks. Now Edwards has found a home under the Matchroom banner and a platform on DAZN. Already the centre of the universe for most of the boxing-watching public, it is a great place for Sunny to showcase his wares.
And what wares they are. Edwards has perhaps struggled for recognition with the average fan. The channel-hopping and small venues haven’t helped. But his brilliance is also hard to distill into snackable online content. Knockouts might be a social media favourite, but they are not Sunny’s forte.
Only four of Sunny’s 20 opponents have failed to hear the final bell. But it is pure boxing in which Edwards excels. His skills are hard to impart in a 30-second Instagram reel. Edwards is an album band in a singles world. It takes three minutes to listen to Taylor Swift’s latest break-up missive, while it takes an hour to listen to Dark Side of the Moon. But the Pink Floyd masterpiece sits on the soul for longer than the pop princess' bittersweet confection. Equally, Edwards’ mastery of the fistic arts has more substance than the latest heavyweight clobbering. There’s genius there for those willing to be patient.
‘Bam’ Rodriguez is a little less patient than Edwards. The WBO champion has knocked out 11 of his 18 opponents and if this one goes short, it’ll likely be because the Texan connected with something special. Rodriguez has competed up at super flyweight, winning the WBC title there. He is also the youngest active titleholder in the sport at the age of 23.
This one feels perfectly-pitched. Two unbeaten champions, both with something to prove. Sunny is out to show that he’s ready for his close-up after years as an aficionado’s choice. ‘Bam’ wants to prove the hype is real and that his youthful world title flourishes have real substance. It’s an all-or-nothing attraction the likes of which we don’t see often enough these days. In a year of overmatched influencers getting gently outpointed by professionals who should know better, this is a real fight.
It’s a real fight that could put either man in the argument for Fighter of the Year. Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue are close to the front of that queue. But for Saturday’s combatants, beating the best man in their division would round off 12 months of success. Edwards punctured the unbeaten record of challenger Andre Campos in June. Meanwhile, Rodriguez picked up the WBO flyweight belt in April by beating Cristian Gonzalez. Whoever wins on Saturday, they’ll have had quite the year.
It’ll be quite the fight, too. It doesn’t get much better than this. With Jake Paul doing something close to boxing on Friday night, and the world’s heavyweights descending on Saudi Arabia the weekend after, it would be easy for a flyweight title fight to get lost in the shuffle. But Edwards has never been the sort of man to go quietly and, in ‘Bam’ Rodriguez, he might just have found the perfect foil.