An Interview With Unbeaten Rhys Edwards
By Oliver McManus
Tonypandy teenager Rhys Edwards has made a dream start to life as a professional boxer.
The multiple amateur national champion debuted aged just 18, in August, and has rocketed his way to 9-0 in subsequent months. With a fight near enough every seven or eight weeks, Edwards finds himself almost permanently in Gary Lockett’s gym. When asked to reflect on the year just passed it was a case of ‘content but not finished yet’.
“I’ve not really had the time to reflect and think about my progress. I’ve had nine fights in, what, twelve months so I’m having a week or two off and then straight back training again. It’s nice to be out as often as possible, fighting regularly, and I’ve come on leaps and bounds if I’m honest with you.
“When I first started it was very obvious that I was still quite young and I had an amateur style of fighting. I’m definitely looking more professional and having so many fights helps that: if I’d have turned professional when I was 23, 24 it would be a lot harder to get out of that style.”
The amateur style that the teenager talks of was clear to see in his debut: against Robbie Forster. The youngster was understandably excitable that night but has boxed with increasing patience in each passing bout. Having inked a professional deal so early on it has been easier for to be moldable and adapt to fresh, new scenarios. When talking to Edwards it is clear he wishes to pass a lot of credit onto his coach, Gary Lockett.
“A lot of it is down to Gary and having a great coach behind me. He doesn’t just get me journeymen to knock over but he’ll try and get someone that’s going to be a different challenge; I’ve had orthodox, southpaw, some that run, some that are there to fight. It’s just about mixing it up and learning how to cope with different styles. It’s a lot better to have different opponents
because it keeps you thinking (and) keeps you on your toes.”
Training alongside the blues music fan, in the self-described ‘funhouse’ with Gary Lockett, are a who’s who of Welsh boxers: Jay Harris, Chris Jenkins and Fred Evans to highlight just three. When this writer spoke to Harris at the end of January he was candid in admitting to looking at Edwards and simply try to steal some of his footwork. On hearing that praise, Edwards let out a half-sigh, half-chuckle, before lifting the lid on life in the gym.
“We’re all learning off each other and it’s great to hear him say that. I’m looking at him and trying to learn that composure he has. Even when he was fighting Paddy Barnes he was looking nice and calm so I’m looking to get a bit of that. I’m in the gym and it’s just about picking up more of a professional style and a bit more patience. There’s such a high calibre of fighters at the gym with Chris (Jenkins), Jay, Maredudd Thomas, Alex Hughes, being around them just lifts you up and pushes you on.”
Alongside that more professional style of fighting being developed, and in tangent with the high-flying gym, Edwards has looked to cover all bases as his career starts to ignite. Taking on board all aspects of the sport – mental resilience, nutrition and dieting -the 19 year old is looking to optimise himself at this early stage to maximise the career-long benefits, he explained:
“I’ve just started arm strength and conditioning so I’m feeling stronger in the ring. Even when I’m sparring more experienced, bigger fighters – like Chris Jenkins – I feel as though I’m pushing them back and holding my own. I can feel the man strength coming through and I’m feeling a lot better. I’m making featherweight easy enough as it is so I’m looking to possibly fight at super bantamweight for titles with the advantage of day-before weigh-ins.”
Little snippets of that growing strength and composure were evident towards the back end of 2019. Two stoppages in his last two fights, taking it to four in total, saw Edwards display a strong variety of punching prowess. His last fight, against Stefan Sahshev, producing a tantalising body punch to finish the fight and the year.
“The fight (against Vladislavs Davidaitis) was just a flurry of punches but against Stefan Sashev that was just a really good body shot. It felt great hitting him with it and it’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve had. I stopped Joe Beeden in my second fight and Gary had said ‘you won’t stop him, just try and box clever.’ To get it done so early (in my career) means it’s just one thing less in the back of my mind.”
Next up the floating featherweight (for now) will take a step-up over six rounds against Jonny Phillips. The contest will take place on February 15th at York Hall and it’s a bout that Edwards is more than up for.
“I’m glad I’ve got a step up now, against Jonny Phillips, and it’s nice to have someone who’s going to try and knock me out. I was meant to fight him last year (in July) but the show got pulled so I was over the moon when it got made again. Obviously (Jacob) Robinson beat him by a point last year in Cardiff and he’s on about fighting for the Welsh title in the next 12 months. If I go and get the job done it’ll put me in that sort of company.”
It could be the first fight of the Welshman’s career with a bit of needle, too; Phillips and his team are on record as saying the fight is too early for Edwards and highlighting his age as a barrier to success. All the rhetoric means nothing to the sharp-shooting 19 year old who is keen to do the job and continue his rise up the rankings. Staying under-the-radar might be not be an option for much longer, mind.
“I’m just looking to improve on the last performance and keep looking composed with the boxing. I’m not going to be looking for a big stoppage because I think I can box his head off for every round so I’ll be happy with 60-54 and an impressive performance. I know I’m more than capable of beating him so it’ll be about staying switched on. He keeps saying I’m just a kid but he doesn’t realise I’ve boxed world class amateurs and he’s lost every fight when he’s stepped up. When I beat him he’s going to look absolutely stupid because, like he says, I am just a kid.”