Sunny Edwards And The Art Of The American Debut

Here is how some of Britain's finest got on across the Atlantic
10:12, 15 Dec 2023

Sunny Edwards is a well-travelled world champion. The IBF flyweight king has fought in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Dubai while also racking up a bank of wins on home soil. But this Saturday sees him walking a well-trodden path for the first time.

Edwards becomes the latest in an illustrious line of British fighters to take their skills to the United States. The Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona will play host to Sunny’s flyweight unification bout with WBO titleholder Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez.


In recognition of Edwards’ transatlantic voyage, The Sportsman looks back at the American debuts of some of the finest British boxers in history.

Lennox Lewis

‘The Lion’ had the majority of his defining fights on American soil. His signature victories over the era’s finest fighters; Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko, all came in the US. But Lewis did enjoy some big nights under British lights too, including stopping Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock in two blistering rounds in London and stopping Frank Bruno at Cardiff Arms Park in a WBC title defence.

But Lewis was a British phenomenon his countrymen got used to viewing from afar. In keeping with his Transatlantic ambitions, Lewis’ second professional bout actually took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The fall guy was 5-10-1 Bruce Johnson, a traditional journeyman who mixed with notables like Trevor Berbick, David Tua, Shannon Briggs and Ron Lyle. Lewis starched Johnson in two rounds, starting a love affair with the Land of the Free that would endure for the rest of his career.

‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed

Sheffield’s ‘Prince’ didn’t do anything by halves. Whether it was capturing a world title by the age of 21, his elaborate walkouts or his famous flip over the ring ropes, Hamed made every moment of his too-brief career utterly memorable.

But his US debut took that concept to another level entirely. In December 1997, the good Prince faced Queens-born puncher Kevin Kelley in his native New York. Madison Square Garden rocked to the sounds of ‘Men In Black’ as Hamed made an entrance from the ceiling. Somehow, this would not be the most dramatic thing the Big Apple would witness on this night.

Incredibly, the action between the ropes would eclipse even this most ostentatious of entrances. In just four rounds, the pair would score three knockdowns each in an unbelievable fight. Naseem triumphed after putting Kelley down with a hard left, and became an overnight sensation in America. So enamoured was Hamed with the USA, he would have more fights there than in the UK for the remainder of his career.


Tyson Fury

‘The Gypsy King’ has not only provided some of the biggest occasions in recent British boxing history, filling stadiums against Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, but Fury is also no stranger to taking the show on the road. His latest bout was in Saudi Arabia while Fury has also boxed in Canada, Ireland and perhaps most famously in Germany, where he won the heavyweight championship from Wladimir Klitschko.

But America sparked a love affair with Fury that has endured throughout his career. His first fight in the nation ignited the passion, when he climbed off the floor to stop former cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham in 2013. It would not be the last time Fury would recover from a knockdown on US soil. It would also not be the last time he treated a crowd to a song, with his rendition of ‘Keep It Between The Lines’ after the bell kicking off a streak of post-fight vocal stylings. 

Ricky Hatton

When you think of boxing Brits abroad, the first name that comes to mind is Ricky Hatton. ‘The Hitman’ famously took 40,000 fans with him to the United States to face Floyd Mayweather in 2007. The Las Vegas strip reverberated to the strains of ‘Hatton Wonderland’, with Mancunian accents outnumbering the natives wherever you went.

But this was far from Hatton’s first foray onto American territory. He had fought Luis Collazo and Juan Urango and Jose Luis Castillo in US-based world title fights in his previous three bouts. But his association with the country went back even further.

Despite becoming synonymous with boxing in his hometown of Manchester, particularly at the fabled Manchester Arena, Ricky actually got an early start to his American dream. Hatton travelled to New York for his second bout, a four-rounder against Robbie Alvarez which he won by decision on the same card as the aforementioned Hamed-Kelley bout.

edwards to beat rodriguez on points: 21/10*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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