CROYDON’S Sunny Edwards successfully defended his IBF flyweight title with a comfortable 12-round decision over Pakistan’s Muhammad Waseem on Saturday (March 19) to very little noise or fanfare in the Middle East.

The fight, an entertaining one, took place at Dubai’s Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Saturday (March 19), where there appeared to be more people sitting ringside than in the stands. This, thankfully, had no bearing on Edwards’ performance, nor the quality of the fight, yet it was a shame nonetheless for an action-packed contest to play out against a backdrop of empty seats and the kind of silence that normally precedes second serve on match point.

It possessed a compelling storyline, too, the fight, with both boxers previously expressing their disdain for one another only to gain one another’s respect through the 12 rounds they shared. Going in, Edwards, the cocky and opinionated favourite, had spoken of his desire to teach Waseem and his coach, Danny Vaughn, a lesson, and therefore made an effort to showboat and taunt them early on. Yet it was noticeable how Edwards then smartened up as the bout progressed, a testament to Waseem’s role in it.

Sometimes winning, after all, is not always about having your hand raised and leaving with a title. It sometimes has more to do with simply gaining the respect of your opponent by giving them the kind of fight they did not expect.

And Waseem, though never likely to win, certainly did that. He enjoyed a good third round, which saw him get rough and try to manhandle Edwards, and he never stopped trying, either, despite his limitations. He also battled on gallantly when badly cut above both eyes.  

But Edwards, as is so often the case, remained a step ahead of his opponent at all times. He punished Waseem whenever he got sloppy, or too aggressive, and he seemed to be fighting well within himself, even if occasionally, much to the irritation of his coach, Grant Smith, he lingered too long on the ropes.

It was, in the end, another exhibition-type performance from Edwards, one full of eye-catching check hooks and clever counterpunching, and one always destined to go the distance. With two points deducted from Waseem for fouls, there was never any doubt Edwards would win a decision, which speaks not only to Edwards’ ability to control opponents like Waseem, 12-2 (8), but also the need for him to step up the level of opposition – and peril – going forward.

Indeed, one could argue that Edwards, 18-0 (4), needed to generate some animosity beforehand just to get himself motivated for a defence like this. Because watching him embrace Waseem ahead of the final round, and then again after the fight, certainly gave the impression that performances like Saturday’s come relatively easy to Edwards and that he subsequently needs there to be more at stake to really stimulate him.

Here, he got it. Thanks to Waseem’s pre-fight confidence, and his aggression during the fight, Edwards had the perfect foil for his impressive skills. This resulted in a controlled performance, if not a perfect one, and scores of 115-111 (twice) and 116-110, all in his favour, after 12 rounds.

The night’s co-main event saw leading super-lightweight contender Regis Prograis demonstrate his composure and class in a sixth-round stoppage of Ireland’s brave but ultimately out of his depth Tyrone McKenna.

The fight, a fun one rather than a competitive one on paper, turned more one-sided than the promoter and McKenna would have wanted midway through the first round, when it became clear McKenna didn’t have the power to budge Prograis and Prograis, 27-1 (23), didn’t have any desire to stick around. Keen to make a statement, the American measured McKenna early, then dropped him heavily with a hard left hand in the second round, from which McKenna, 22-3-1 (6), did well to recover.

After that, the fight was an exercise in survival for McKenna, at least for the next few rounds, as Prograis stalked him and landed any number of body shots and left hands. Mostly on the back foot, McKenna showed good survival instincts, and would occasionally unload the odd combination, but his lack of power ensured his efforts were never more than token.

Admirably, he did exchange with Prograis when most would have covered up, his aim to perhaps outlast him down the stretch. However, Prograis, calm when trading, and operating exclusively in first gear, was leaving his mark on the Irishman, both physically and mentally, and had sufficiently bloodied him by round six for a cuts stoppage to bring an end to their scheduled 10-rounder.  

Earlier in the night another Irishman, TJ Doheny, stopped Mexico’s game but limited Cesar Juarez in the second round. The fight, set for 10 rounds, seemed a mismatch from the off and Doheny, a former IBF super-bantamweight belt-holder, had little difficulty breaking up his opponent with body shots, landing well with both his left and right hand from a southpaw stance.

It was then in the second round Doheny, having softened Juarez up, caught his foe with a left uppercut as he lurched forward, followed by an even better left hook, which dropped Juarez, 27-11 (20). To his credit, Juarez did haul himself up but of course he didn’t last much longer than that, with Doheny, 23-3 (17), setting about the Mexican and securing the finish at the 2-23 mark of the second round.

In another mismatch, Liverpool’s Peter McGrail hit Alexandru Ionita with pretty much every shot in the book until a mercy stoppage in the second round prevented the outgunned Romanian from enduring further punishment. By that point, it was all one-way traffic, with McGrail, 3-0 (2), showing all his amateur pedigree and the full extent of his punch repertoire at the expense of Ionita, 7-11-1 (5), who offered only his heart in return. The end was both well-timed and inevitable and it’s hard to see what McGrail learned from the experience he wouldn’t have already known.