Sunny Edwards became IBF flyweight champion as he jabbed and moved, danced and switched for 12 rounds to claim a unanimous decision over Moruti Mthalane at the York Hall, in London.
Edwards had a plan and executed it to perfection. He built a huge lead in the first half of the fight and when Mthalane tried to battle his way back in the second half, Edwards had enough in his legs to keep the distance between them.
“It was a masterclass,” Frank Warren, the promoter, said. “It was the art of boxing: hitting and not getting hit. He fought at a very high tempo, it was brilliant, one of the best performances I have seen for years by a British boxer.
“The only thing lacking was a crowd. He deserved the accolades of people watching.”
Edwards’s big brother, Charlie, boxed for this title in 2016 and was blown away. Two years later, toughened up by the experience, he became a world champion, claiming the WBC title, which he held onto for nine months.
He could become a champion that opponents will hate to fight. So fast and elusive, it seems incredible that he doesn’t confuse himself at times. Mthalane finished deeply frustrated, walking straight out of the ring the moment it was confirmed that his title reign was over.
But the South African could just not match the speed of Edwards. The lower down the divisions, the more speed counts. At 38, the South African was the oldest boxer to defend a version of the world flyweight title. He also had to overcome ring rust, having not boxed since before the pandemic struck.
Edwards set a blistering pace from the start, moving, switching beating the South African to the punch and getting away. For the first few rounds, Mthalane seemed content to bide his time, but as the challenger showed no signs of slowing, he began to show some desperation in closing the gap.
By midway, though, the lead was already huge. Mthalane had some success in the seventh and eighth rounds, as he got close and rushed Edwards, but Edwards pulled out more in the ninth.
“You’ve got six minutes to be world champion,” Grant Smith, Edwards’s trainer, told him at the end of the eleventh round. “The only way he is going to win is to stop you.” If Edwards did have a tough round, it came in the eleventh, as he first showed signs of seriously slowing, but he finished well as the champion seemed to accept his fate.
One judge, Bob Williams, scored it a whitewash, 120-108 for Edwards, which even Edwards dismissed as a bad scorecard. Steve Gray had it 118-111 and Ian John Lewis had it 115-113.
“Grant kept reminding me of my kids’ names every couple of rounds,” Edwards said. “That’s when you know things are going the best.
“It is nothing less than I expected. I knew it would be hard, he was very good at closing the gap down. I feel I deserved to win. It might not be pretty all the time, it might not be exciting all the time, but I am very, very hard to beat.
“I hit him hard enough to keep him off me, but my God, did he make me work. My legs after the sixth round were tire like they never were before.
“After the sixth round, he came at me quick for the seventh and eighth, but I felt I was tying him up well, but I could hear him breathing, so I thought one or two more rounds at this pace and he is going to start flagging. His sharpness fell in the last three rounds, because in the mid-late rounds I was trying to counter and he was blocking everything.”
It was the first time Mthalane had been beaten since 2008, when he lost to Nonito Donaire in Las Vegas. He was in his second reign as IBF champion, having won it first in 2009. Edwards remains unbeaten in 16 fights.