Rhys Edwards steps up in style to see-off Johnny Phillips

Rhys Edwards steps up in style to see-off Johnny Phillips

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: Tonypandy’s rising talent Rhys Edwards (10-0, 4KO) passed his first step up in style by dominating Surrey’s Jonny Phillips (5-4, 2KO) over six rounds at London’s York Hall.

Gary Lockett has guided the 19-year-old since he turned professional and wanted him to ‘grow up’ as the stakes heightened. Edwards responded by literally moving into the gym to live for spells of his training camp. It enabled the featherweight to fully commit to training by day and relax away from any distractions by night, albeit on a camp bed.

Edwards was sure he’d done enough for a whitewash, but he was denied when referee Kieran McCann somehow found a round in favour of Phillips. To the bemusement of everyone, the official surprisingly judged it 59-55. It wasn’t the first-time things didn’t go as they should on the day. At the weigh-in, Phillips came in nearly three pounds over the agreed limit.

“I was quite tamping with the referee giving him a round. No offence to Jonny but I wouldn’t give him a minute of any round,” Edwards justifiably protested. “I was gutted he gave him a point because [world title challenger] Stephen Smith won all six rounds [against Phillips] and I didn’t want to do worse than him. It is what it is, I know I didn’t lose a round.”

Phillips shot across the ring straight away, pushing forward with his head and it took less than 15 seconds for the physical tactics to be disciplined. He quickly abandoned the reckless approach, trying to box with Edwards and he was second best. Edwards danced around the target and navigated Phillips to the ropes with a consistent jab. It was a fast opening, the highlights coming when Edwards staggered Phillips with a left hook and short uppercuts through the middle.

The occasion, atop a Priority Boxing show, was a test of Edwards’ composure and his attitude was positive. As Phillips grew erratic in the second round, Edwards’ jab repeatedly thwarted those speculative attacks and kept it at arm’s length to land an assortment of accurate straights. The pace settled in the third round and Phillips spent more time on the back foot. When he did respond, Edwards tucked up to catch hooks and counter in the pocket, before his movement restarted the routine.

There was increasing purchase on Edwards’ punches, especially the screw shots whipped up from his waist to Phillips’ forehead. For a natural counterpuncher, Edwards was just as effective in his proactive work, catching Phillips with hooks to the body to sap his energy in the fourth round. Edwards was comfortable in the pocket and showed he was much more than ‘just a kid,’ as labeled by Phillips in the build up. Whenever the ambition of Phillips began to flicker, it was soon extinguished and Edwards enjoyed doing so in the fourth round, bouncing solid power punches off the target and signaling to a vocal crowd.

Edwards sat down on his shots in the fifth round, loading a crisp uppercut with the power to send Phillips’ gum-shield across the ring. Phillips remained game throughout and was still trying in the sixth round, rallying when he had chances to come forward. Edwards’ ability always had the answer and he finished the fight by shooting right cross counters over Phillips’ jab.

“I knew he didn’t have the skills to beat me, he was always going to try to brawl and rough me up. As soon as he came with his head, I knew to move or tuck up, take what he had and come back,” said Edwards in his synopsis. “I don’t know where they [opponents] get the idea from that I’m just a kid. I know I’m young but obviously I’m no push over. I don’t fight like a kid, I fight like a man… so look out in two years.

“As an amateur, I was always kind of, as they say, running and counter punching. I’d never catch shots and come back. That’s something I’ve learned with Gary and, to be honest, I’ve picked it up so quickly you’d swear I’d been a pro for years. The amount I’ve improved in a year is crazy. It’s down to Gary training me and making me a more composed fighter.”

Phillips, a beatable but very respectable opponent, presented the perfect task to complete Edwards’ apprenticeship. The Englishman had been a real handful against other prospects, such as Cardiff’s Jacob Robinson, justifying his confidence in causing an upset. The occasion capped the first chapter of Edwards’ professional career. Until now, the prospect had faced relatively low risk opposition, allowing him to learn small lessons on the job. The hurdle was higher for this fight and it was cleared with plenty of space to spare.

Evaluating his progress and next steps, Edwards said: “The show was great. The atmosphere between my fans and his fans was a great. I really enjoyed it. All my fans singing was really good. I had a bit of a step up in my 10th fight against Jonny Phillips and I felt good in there. To be honest, I wouldn’t like the box anymore terrible journeymen. I’d like to keep the level of Jonny or step it up again, keep stepping up. I’m open to titles.

“I’d be happy to move to an eight rounder in my next fight but that’s not down to me, it’s down to Gary. He’s in charge. I just do as he says, really. I’m just going to listen to Gary; keep learning, keep improving and keep winning.”

Edwards’ immediate plans included a short holiday to Malta and then a trip stateside, to Texas, in support of Swansea’s Jay Harris. The duo have struck up a friendship through regular sparring at Llanrumney Boxing Club and Edwards had to be there in person to cheer on Harris’ world title challenge.

Earlier in the night, Cardiff’s Fred Evans (7-1) came through a tougher than expected encounter with Wilmer Gonzalez (20-17-1, 13KO). Like Edwards, the Olympic silver medallist earned a 59-55 decision win, though in contrasting circumstances.

Gonzalez is a Nicaraguan based in Spain and a frequent visitor to away corners across the United Kingdom. He arrived seven pounds overweight, much to the annoyance of Evans and his team, and made that count in spurts during their six rounder at super-middleweight.

Evans found the target early, landing his jab through Gonzalez’s low guard. It sent spray from his hair and Evans was happy in the opener. Right hooks followed and despite the unconvincing showmanship, it was evident Gonzalez felt the shots. Gonzalez was warned by the referee for careless positioning of his head and that interrupted Evans’ work. Gonzalez responded with wild lunges, attempting to suffocate Evans and it unsettled the Welshman.

A couple of left crosses at the end of the third round sent Gonzalez stumbling to the ropes and the favour was returned back to Evans in the fourth round. Evans received his share of solid shots and he appeared buzzed, energizing Gonzalez’s levels of confidence.

There were more warning signs in the fifth round when Gonzalez landed successive overhands. Evans collected himself by circling the ring, eyeing an opening to regain the upper hand. His southpaw jabs picked off Gonzalez as he edged forward more frequently. It allowed Evans opportunities to recover and he remained more consistent in the final round, though swung wide shots that his corner advised against. It brought a close to an uncomfortable evening.

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by Liam Hartery.

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