(Interview by Shaun Brown)

BN: How did you and your new trainer Stephen Smith link up?

CE: It come about first and foremost from my strength and conditioning coach, Johnny Reynolds, who works with a lot of the top coaches. I was in no man’s land. After leaving my old coach [Joe Gallagher] I was thinking about who I was gonna go with. I didn’t want to be another number in a gym. I was in limbo, training in Portugal. I started managing myself and I weren’t gonna rush it because I’ve rushed things too many times and I’ve learned from my mistakes. I was taking my time assessing who I was gonna go with. Then I come over to a Matchroom show to get networking. I went down to have a session with my strength coach, and he told me Stephen Smith’s going into training. I couldn’t believe it because he’s always someone I’ve looked up to coming through the amateurs and even on the pro circuit. He was always nice to me when I was coming through as a prospect. It was like a match made in heaven. The penny dropped. I know Stephen through his brothers as well and the experience speaks for itself. He’s been in two world title fights, reached the top of his game. He’s been around his brothers who have fought the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Andre Ward. For me, it was a no-brainer and I know he’s got a great boxing brain. I sat and talked with him the week before I got told he was training. We shared common ground on a lot of things. A week later, I found out he was going into coaching. It was like the universe colliding and we’ve gone from strength to strength. He come over to Portugal and trained with me out there so we could do a little trial. Callum Smith did a bit of training there too before his fight with Artur Beterbiev. I done a few days training with Stephen, and I knew it was right. Everything was screaming it was right. I asked him to be my coach and he told me he’d give me his everything. It’s everything I’ve ever needed as a fighter. And my performance on April 12 will speak volumes. I’m learning a hell of a lot with him. It’s refreshing. He’s bringing out the best in me. There’s a new type of coach coming through like Andy Lee, Anthony Crolla and Stephen Smith. It’s a new era but they’re experienced veterans of the sport who have fought for and won titles.

BN: Is camp life now in Liverpool?

CE: We started the camp with a week in Portugal and he told me we can do both between there and Liverpool. That was a breath of fresh air because I’ve got a three-year-old daughter and a wife who are over there. I’ve rented somewhere in Liverpool and for me it’s eat, sleep, train, and repeat. It’s so secluded. I’m doing everything in my power to be the best version of myself. After the dark times I went through it has made me hungrier, determined and made me more professional. I’ve doubled up on everything, I’m doing everything right and I’ve matured a lot. I’ve quit drinking and have done for the last 18-20 months. I’ve put a lot of investment into myself. This has been a two-year training camp. I’ve been grinding my arse off behind the scenes. On April 12 I’ll show I’m back as a force.

BN: You mentioned you’d quit drinking. Was it becoming a problem in your life before then?

CE: Yes, definitely. I was always ultra professional in the gym when I had fights but then I would lose the plot a little bit and it was like a yo-yo effect especially when I was world champion. The pressure of being at the top really hit me hard, the amount of negative energies and distractions it brings along the way. It was like a coping mechanism to help with my social anxiety from being a nobody to a somebody overnight. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone asking me and reminding me about my mum and her illness. As much as I appreciated the support and everyone taking us to heart, I suffered emotionally and found it hard to cope and deal with at the time.  When it hit the media, it was a constant reminder that I couldn’t go anywhere without it being in my face. It was a hard time to battle through on a personal level and then making the flyweight limit as well. Looking back now I probably should have never been a flyweight. I won a world title at a weight I should never have won it at – which is crazy in itself. My mental health took a bit of a hit and the pressures got too much for me. I’ve grown up a lot, I’ve matured a lot and done some inner work getting away from the alcohol and realising it was making me worse and more negative and doing silly things. As soon as I cut that out, my life changed for the better. I’m flying. I’ve had a very supportive wife who’s been behind me. When I was world champion I wasn’t with my wife. She’s helped me develop and grow and mature as a man. It feels like this part of my career is like a rebirth. World champion Charlie to the Charlie I am now is a completely different human being. I’ve had to go through the dark times to realise who I am and what I am. I realise I let myself down as a world champion because there were times where I was hitting the drink too much and then I was rushing back into the camps. In my head I knew the crazy side of things was affecting me and it wasn’t the best Charlie Edwards. I’ve lived with quite a lot of regret, and I think it’s created a new inner-monster in me to push me to a whole new level. Now I’ve got the right people around me. I’ve teamed up with Wasserman and I’m going to be on Channel 5. Now it’s time to show who I am.

BN: Would you say you had an alcohol addiction? How much were you drinking?

CE: No, I wouldn’t say that, but it has affected my judgement and been something that’s been more present in times when it shouldn’t have been. After the controversial world title defence [against Julio Cesar Martinez], that was made a no contest, I was probably only sober for about five days the following month. In between camps, after I became a world champion, I was drinking occasionally here and there along the way, but during the months that it went on, it messed me up so much mentally for a long period of time. It would affect other areas of my life as well and it was a spiral effect which would affect my anxiety. I couldn’t go to social events without drinking and if someone was looking at me, it would make me paranoid. Battling through and coming through the other side means that I can go to any event, where alcohol is present now, full of people and not even think about it. I don’t feel any anxiety anymore, or awkwardness, or worrying what people thought of me. Social media had a big impact on me after the world title fight. I read too many things along with [drinking] the alcohol. It was a real dark space, but that time has gone. Battling those demons and coming through makes me feel like a totally different person. I am much stronger and determined and it is my time again. Everything happens for a reason.

BN: The title for the show you’re headlining on April 12 is ‘Don’t Call It a Comeback’. I’ve heard you say it’s all about resurgence.

CE: Why it’s called that is because I’ve never gone nowhere. That world championship was five years ago. What I went through I went through in silence. No one knew. I battled through it with my wife. I got through it. But these last two years I’ve been in the gym grinding. I was in the gym before then as well, but it was a crazier lifestyle, and my life was all over the place. I’m a family man, I live for my family, my daughter. But this whole time all I’ve been doing is training week in, week out, and having no holidays. The obsession must have gone to a new level. This is my life; this means the world to me, and I want to get to where I know I belong. But I’ve had doors constantly slammed in my face. Problems with management, promotionally things weren’t working out either. It’s taken so much time, and so much back-and-forth with lawyers, which I haven’t been able to speak about, and I can’t talk about publicly. Everything could have gone one or two ways but I’m not one to give up, it’s not who I am as a person. Many would have given up if they went from top of the world to no man’s land, but I’ve chosen to go all in harder than ever. I believe I will be repaid for the seeds that I have sown, and activity is key. I’ll be out four times within the space of 12 to 18 months and that’s not really heard of anymore. People are going to wish they took the opportunity to fight me in the past because when I get three fights deep and I get into big fights I’m going to be a problem.

Charlie Edwards before fighting Julio Cesar Martinez (Dave Thompson)

BN: After everything you’ve been through fighting must feel like the easy part of it all.

CE: It’s a saving grace. It’s something I’ve always put my energy into. I suffer from ADHD as well. It’s always helped me with my overpour of energy. If I haven’t got boxing, it’s hard to deal with. I need to train; I need to get that outlet and whenever I’ve had negative situations, I’ve used that energy and put it into boxing and used it to cope and feel good about myself. It makes me feel confident and powerful. Boxing’s the easy bit. Now I’ve finally pulled myself up from the pit and the shit I’ve had to go through. I feel like now it’s all systems go and the future’s really bright. I think me and Stephen Smith are going to go on and achieve great things in the sport. You have to have blind faith and keep stepping forward. Look at the likes of Leigh Wood. Everyone had given up on him and he bounced back and look at where is now. Jordan Gill is another example, so is Tasha Jonas. This is what we have to do as fighters. We have to keep fighting and those that do get rewarded for it.

BN: Are there any concerns that your best years are behind you?

CE: If I could have done things different, I would have been busier. But then I wouldn’t have been able to work on myself and have a different mindset. I wouldn’t have been able to become stronger and do my strength and conditioning. It’s a hard one to think about. Do you get doubt, of course. But because of my dedication and how much it means to me there is going to be doubt but I have to harness that as a positive. I want to explode back on the scene. I know how hard I’ve worked; it means everything to me. When I was world champion, I’d lost that. I don’t believe I’ve lost my best years. I won a world title at 25 years old and that’s very young. I fought for my first world title at 23 in my ninth fight. Maybe the time has been a blessing in disguise to develop and grow into a man. I’m a lot more experienced, I see the game differently. I’ve been developing behind the scenes away from everything. This could have been the best thing to ever happen to me. I’ve only just turned 31 and coming into the peak years of my career. I’m fresh, I don’t take punishment and I never have in fights. My reactions are good. I’m very healthy, I live a clean life and have never lived a cleaner life as an athlete. I can only say what I’ve done and now I’ve got to prove it.