“This is a true story,” explains Sunny Edwards. “When I left Repton [Amateur Boxing Club] to go to Sheffield for university, England coaches who had worked with me over the last few years of being a five-time national champion… the first thing they said to [trainer] Grant [Smith] when they knew he was training me was, ‘You ain’t gonna do nothing with that boy.’ They said he’d do nothing with the kid. Fast forward seven years and he’s made me world champion.”
The newly-minted IBF flyweight king stunned former world No. 1 South African Moruti Mthlane to win the title a couple of weeks ago and the Steel City Gym kicked on last weekend when Dalton Smith stopped Lee Appleyard in six for the English title.
Dalton is the son of Grant Smith, who as Sunny’s trainer and the owner of the Steel City Gym in Sheffield, has one of the go-to boxing gyms in the country, and Sunny is quick to endorse his coach.
“The man’s a legend, I don’t know why he’s so elusive and such a mystery,” said Edwards, of Smith’s decision to shirk the attention and interviews. “I just think he thinks people aren’t interested in what he has to say but he’s some man, though. He’s a character, he’s influenced and impacted everyone who’s walked through that gym of his, inside and out of it as well. He doesn’t really care for the limelight or people giving him accolades, he’s just all for his fighters and as long as he knows he’s done right by his fighters then I think he’s happy.”
There is no set style in the gym, as one can tell from watching the fighters, but Smith has laid foundations that pros and amateurs do, there are fundamentals drilled at all levels but each fighter is having the best brought out of them.
“It’s just a gym that’s buzzing at the moment,” continues the champion. “Grant’s very selective about who comes in the gym, he really does believe in the importance of a good vibe in the gym and people getting on, professionally and personally. He’s just a really good man and he does everything he can for his fighters.”
Smith will hate this but he’s not one who gets many or seeks plaudits, so Sunny goes on…
“He tells it how it is, gets what he needs to off his chest and it’s very good and easy to have an open relationship with somebody who’s like that. He’s very dedicated, and as a boxer knowing that your coach is dedicated to you it’s important and, if I’m honest, it’s not something you always have. With Grant, he’s there for sparring with you, he’s travelling with you, he’s up for 6am, 7am runs with you out in the snow and rain, his word’s his bond and it’s easy to put your trust in someone like that.”
One only needs to see Smith’s reaction when Edwards won the title to see how passionate he is. You can see how engaged he is during a fight, too, and even at the gym, watching sparring. He takes it all in and he does something that many say is a lost art, he teaches.
And, of course, between them Smith and Edwards have battled the odds. The fact that they were not meant to make it – either individually or together – means they’ve both been motivated by the detractors while on their incredible journey.
“He takes on people as his own,” adds Edwards. “He’s been my coach really for seven, coming on eight years, apart from a six-month period when I was in Marbella at the start of my professional career. Apart from that he’s been my coach since I was 18 so obviously we’ve shared a hell of a lot inside and outside the ring. He’s seen me become a father to two young boys… He’s seen me get to the highs in the amateurs and then falling short in the ABAs and then going pro and doing it the hard way. He’s seen it all first hand and he’s been a massive influence through it all. He’s always been very confident in my ability. Even when he first got me, I was [a] very, very back-foot, negative boxer and he kind of turned what I am into a fight-friendly version of myself. He added positivity and knew what to do. The first three or four months of training with him was hard because I’d had so many years where, because I’d had success, everyone kind of let me do what I wanted to do. Then Grant picked me apart as an amateur and as a pro our partnership has grown, so has our relationship and we have that kind of communication where when we have that minute in between rounds I’m utilising every second of it because I know him inside out and he knows me inside out. It’s that bond you can have only have with time and experience. Everyone wants their new relationships to have all the truth and trust in it, but you need to build that over time. We know how much work we’ve both put in.”
Last weekend the spotlight went to Grant’s son, Dalton, a 8-0 talent who has caught the eye on Matchroom undercards. There’s real quality about what he’s shown but the camp knows the stiffer tests lie ahead.
“Dalton’s incredible,” Sunny goes on. “He’s always been one of the top kids, he’s been national champion since he was 11 or 12, he’s always been good and ahead [for his age]. Obviously there’s a transition into the pros, it’s a different sport and you have to rewire things differently but he’s showing such great potential and you can look at his performances and see that not many fighters go to -0 and are as dominant as he’s been.
“There hasn’t been any problems in any of his fights. Yeah, most of his fights he should be winning up to this point but it’s the manner, method and how easily he’s doing it and that shows real potential."
Edwards is the man of the moment, however, while Dalton might be the hot prospect.
Meanwhile, Smith, assistant coach Pearce Gudgeon and strength and conditioning coach Reiss Silva will let their fighters do the talking.
Edwards is not satisfied having just scalped Mthlane. He now wants Julio Cesar Martinez, the WBC champion who won his title from Sunny’s brother Charlie two years ago.
“I want to be the No. 1,” Edwards says. “That’s the whole point of fighting Moruti and they’ve put another obstacle in my way but I want to be No. 1, I want to be the best and right now there’s only one person in front of me. I thought if you beat No. 1 that would make you No. 1. For Martinez, [he’d see me as] very much the B side and arguably rightly so, he probably had his own plans before I beat Moruti and how I fit into them I don’t know, but he’d have a lot of confidence [to beat me]. He beat [Andrew] Selby, he beat [Jay] Harris and what happened with my brother happened and I’m sure he’s going to have every confidence against me so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be made at some point, especially with the back story and the history and his profile being big in this country.”