By Elliot Worsell
HAMSTRUNG already by virtue of being flyweights and therefore easy to overlook, all Sunny Edwards in the end wanted from Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez was a bit of cooperation when it came to selling their fight. He wasn’t asking for much, just the odd tweet here and there, yet Rodriguez, whether because he’s not that way inclined or because he knew his silence would frustrate Edwards, refused to participate. He did some contracted promotion as and when required, but then essentially stopped there, leaving Edwards to do the rest.
As a result, there has been a sense for weeks, at least online, that Edwards is fighting himself. For it is Edwards and only Edwards who keeps mentioning the fight on Saturday (December 16) and it is Edwards who keeps going back and forth with those on social media who claim the fight is not selling; that is, tickets are not being snapped up as Edwards and his promoter would have hoped. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, content to just train and keep his head down, has managed to avoid much of this – the pressure, the backlash, the scrutiny – and seemingly accepted that although his silence could hurt the success of the event it could, ultimately, also be the thing that leads to him being victorious on fight night.
Edwards, of course, will roundly dispute this. In fact, he would likely go so far as to say that for him the idea of selling, or simply being online at all hours, is neither a chore nor something out of the ordinary. Rather, given both his personality and need to constantly be engaged, there is every chance selling the fight is as vital to Edwards’ success in it as ignoring the fight is to Rodriguez’s.
Different methods and personalities, their approaches to both this fight and promotion in general is a study in contrast, and in the case of Edwards it is plain to see why communicating online with fans and putting his neck on the line would act as the motivation he needs to ensure he is at his best. “I’m nervous,” he wrote this week, no doubt tongue-in-cheek, “so I distract myself.”
For some, the concept of continuing to tweet throughout fight week may be hard to grasp. Indeed, they will associate obsessive tweeting with a lack of discipline and assume it is coming at the expense of time spent in the gym. Yet Edwards is always quick to refute this accusation, of the belief a boxer can quite easily do both; meaning when he is not in the gym, he is on his phone, and when he is not on his phone, he is in the gym. A thoroughly modern man in that regard, Edwards is no fool, and knows that as a flyweight he must be more than just arguably Britain’s slickest technician. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, with only four knockouts in his 20 professional wins he understands that noise and excitement must be generated in other ways. If this means becoming boxing’s great windup merchant, making people want to see him lose as much as they want to see him win, so be it. As far as he is concerned the wanting to watch is the most crucial aspect in all this.
Which is perhaps why, when it comes down to it, Edwards is disappointed in Rodriguez’s reluctance to play his part and at least meet him halfway. Even if it’s not in his character to behave in such a way, Edwards would have still liked to have seen Rodriguez adopt a role, wear a mask, or, if nothing else, show a bit more enthusiasm for what is about to happen.
Rodriguez, though, will no doubt point to his two big wins in 2022 – against Carlos Cuadras, and then Srisaket Sor Rungvisai – and argue that were it not for those wins this fight wouldn’t be half as appealing as it is. There would be some truth to that as well, for of the two it is the Texan, four years Edwards’ junior at 23, who has made a splash on the world stage and whose form last year had many calling him “Fighter of the Year”. Maybe that, in his mind, is enough; enough to sell a fight with Edwards; enough to allow him to take a backseat; enough to justify his silence.
Edwards, however, someone more in tune with the zeitgeist, knows for certain it’s not enough. He also knows that no matter how hard he himself tries to sell a fight, he will always, for reasons already mentioned, be up against it.
In fact, despite Edward’s committed push to make himself a star in recent years, there still remains a feeling – and fear – that he is “Twitter famous” rather than someone whose name is being discussed out there in the real world. Hardly helped on this front by certain business decisions, nor by a couple of peculiar fights in empty arenas in Dubai, Edwards remains a boxer forever battling both his limitations as a flyweight and the limitations of an audience’s patience. He is, both in terms of personality and technical prowess, one of the more compelling propositions in boxing today, yet one wonders whether this appeal – both the personality and the cool highlight reels – lends itself more to an online crowd – happy to scroll, tweet nonsense, and just as quickly move on – than a crowd more likely to use their phone to actually pay for tickets and subscriptions.
Sometimes that’s the problem with an online presence, you see. As simple as it is to build, it offers a false impression of a boxer’s actual value and popularity and, in turn, almost gives their promoter an opportunity to sit back and think the work is already done; at least the old-fashioned kind of work; promoting, in other words. Moreover, in creating a world in which boxers can now self-promote, and are encouraged to do so, and are told Jake Paul and KSI are templates for success, it becomes very easy for promoters to point rather than promote. If a fight then fails to sell, they invariably blame the boxers for not being “marketable” or “putting themselves out there” rather than, say, looking at the job description and realising that self-promotion for a promoter uses all the energy they should be directing towards those who need and deserve it.